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February 23, 2012
Arizona State is 8-19 overall and just 4-11 in conference. They are one of only three Pac-12 teams averaging fewer points a game than their opponents - 60.2 to 65.7 (-5.4 points a game).
Arizona State ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage at 45.4 percent and seventh in free throw percentage at 66.6 percent. The Sun Devils rank eighth in three point shooting (35.3 percent) and ninth in defending the three point shot (36.2 percent).
Arizona State averages 8.41 offensive rebounds per game which puts them in 11th place in the conference. They get 23.07 defensive rebounds per game and are ninth in the conference.
The Sun Devils average 3.96 blocks per game which is good enough to put them in fourth place in the conference. But the Sun Devils only average 11.89 assists per game which leaves them in tenth place in the conference.
Arizona State averages a ninth best in conference 5.33 steals per game and is last in the conference in turnover margin at -5.30.
So, those are the numbers.
On the other side of the ledger, there's this: St. John's 66, UCLA 63. The Bruins have won only once this season against D-I opposition outside of California. Once. The fact that this inability to win on the road is echoed by most Pac-12 teams doesn't change the importance of that fact a whit.
If the Bruins are looking ahead to Arizona on Saturday, they will fall Thursday night - it's as simple as that.
That the Bruins can win this game is obvious. The first meeting between these two teams saw Joshua Smith score 18 points in only 21 minutes of play. Travis Wear chipped in for 16 points and seven rebounds in UCLA's dominating win (75-58) over the Sun Devils. But that was in L.A.
Not much has changed for either team since their last meeting. UCLA currently stands 6th in the conference, trailing pace-setters Cal and Washington with Colorado third and Oregon and Arizona one game up on UCLA in 4th spot. The Bruins have to leap frog two of those teams to wind up in the top four and gain that all-important bye in the conference tournament. Right now that's seeming a longer and longer shot every week. ASU stands 10th in the Pac-12, ahead of only Utah and Southern California.
No sense going over every ASU player again as everyone has already seen them once. However, an update at least of team leaders would be in order.
The Sun Devils will once again depend upon Trent Lockett, who even with a bad ankle continues to lead the team in scoring (13.1) points, rebounding (5.9) and steals (31). Lockett also leads his team in field goal percentage at 52 percent. Chris Colvin leads the team in assists with an average of 3.48 per game. Jonathan Gilling is the team's best three point shooter at 38.8 percent.
Overall Coach Herb Sendek has had a tough time with his group this year. Some of his recent comments speak to the issues as well as to the team's ability to hang in games at times only to fall short in the end.
The Sun Devils do not have a true point guard and turnovers have been an issue.
"[The] coaches have really made that one of the key points this season," Sendek said. "We just have to pay more attention and take better care of the ball and don't try to make home-run plays. That's probably the biggest thing.
"Obviously we don't have a true point guard and that may hurt us at times but at the same time we're going to go out there and compete with the guys we have.," Sendek said. "To tell you the truth, I feel like every game we've played this season we could have won. We really hinder ourselves at times but that [having a true point guard] could obviously make a difference."
When asked what his team really needs, Coach Sendek replied, "You can call it killer instinct or handling adversity but there's something that we need to find as a team and when we do I think we'll have a better season and different outcomes in a lot of games that we play."
The Sun Devils are a scrappy bunch and will throw a variety of defenses at the Bruins including a trap zone at times. They will play hard and their game will be elevated by the home crowd and surroundings.
The Bruins will have to focus and come out ready to play hard. They are the better team - certainly in Los Angeles, no doubt also on a neutral court. But you take away the points they gained from being the home team the first time around and give them instead to the Sun Devils and the two teams are a lot closer to one another than the results indicated in that first meeting.
Close enough that a four minute cold stretch could conceivably make the difference. Or failing to focus on taking care of the ball (as was the case in New York City last weekend). Or failing to block out and rebound the ball securely.
Clearly it's a game the Bruins need to win to buoy their chances to play in the off-season. On the other hand, a win over the Bruins followed by another this weekend over SC would be the high-point of ASU's season, give them something to build on for the future.
It's there for the taking.
But as the Bruins have shown time after time this year, that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.