ASU begins its long and winding Pac-12 road

ASU guard Jermaine Marshall scored 26 points against Washington State last time out. The Sun Devils play at USC on Thursday at at UCLA on Sunday.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Optional scheduling is over. The Pac-12 teams will settle into the sometimes less-than-perfect conference travel package this week. The new TV contact brings money to the league, but it brings inconvenience as well.

No. 1 Arizona and Arizona State play the Los Angeles schools Thursday night … and not again until Sunday night. They could easily drive the distance four times in between the games with USC and UCLA. Travel partners Colorado and Utah have an even longer week. Each plays one Washington school Wednesday and the other Sunday. Then, the Washingtons travel to the Bay Area for games the following Wednesday.

And so it goes. For most teams, Sunday is a full day off — no classes, no practices. But the 2014 Pac-12 schedule features 15 Sunday games, the five this week going against the NFL playoffs.

"There is not a whole lot in that for the student-athlete, to be frank," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "I understand why we do it. In terms of having a day of rest, it’s a nice, easy cadence, where you could take Sundays off. I’m a little bit of a traditionalist. I think it’s really healthy for everybody. You don’t have a traditional day off for your kids."

ASU will try to have one light day this weekend, but it is obviously not the same, especially in a foreign hotel.

"There are lighter days and there are days off," Sendek said. "Some days it is better to disengage."

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ASU (12-3, 1-1) is one of three teams that lost at home on the first weekend — Stanford and Utah were the others — and will look to make up ground against USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Sunday. The Bruins beat USC by 34 points, 107-73, last Sunday, running the supposed running team out of Pauley Pavilion.

The Sun Devils suffered the most unexpected loss, however, when Washington beat them down the floor in a 76-65 victory that was not that close. Sendek identified 16 bad shots ASU took that game, and the Sun Devils even went to a zone defense in short stretches of the first and second half in an attempt to limit the athletic Huskies, who were 8-5 entering league play.

"We certainly have areas that we need to address, offensively and defensively," Sendek said. "Defensively, we have to continue to get better with our man-to-man. Offensively, there are several areas. We have to get back to moving the ball and making each other better."

Senior wing Jermaine Marshall, who often becomes ASU’s best option when Jahii Carson makes a move to the basket, will enter the weekend after a 26-point game in the Sun Devils’ bounce-back 66-47 victory over Washington State.

The difference between the two games?

"It’s us," Marshall said. "We have to be able to get stops and play defense and communicate more on the defensive end."

Marshall made 9-of-14 field goals and 4-of-7 3-pointers against Washington State, and he can be considered the best perimeter shooter in the Pac-12 at this point. Marshall has made 39-of-86 3s this season, 45 percent, the highest shooting percentage among any of the Pac-12 players who have attempted at least 48 3s. That works out to about three attempts per game.

"It is what I work hard for," Marshall said. "That shows hard work pays off."

In part thanks to Carson, Marshall is having the best season of his career in his first here after playing three at Penn State. Marshall is shooting 49.1 percent from the field after hitting 39.1 percent last year. His 3-point percentage also is a career high by more than 100 percentage points.

With what has become a normal defensive game, center Jordan Bachynski will move into second place in Pac-12 career blocked shots against on Thursday. Bachynski has 255 blocks, three short of former Arizona and current Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye. Bachynski remains on pace to break the conference record held by former Arizona center Anthony Cook (278). Frye and Cook played in 133 career games. Bachynski, who leads Division I with 64 blocks this season, has played in 104 games.