TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State found itself in freefall for a few hours Saturday, but when it was over, the landing was as soft as the felt on a Las Vegas gaming table.
Despite a 78-76 overtime loss at Oregon State on Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devils claimed the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament when California beat Colorado 66-65 in overtime in the early evening.
It was about all that went right this week, but it was enough. When Cal guard Justin Cobbs made two free throws with 21 seconds remaining in Berkeley, the Sun Devils went from the No. 6 seed to No. 3.
ASU (21-10, 10-8) earned one of four byes in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, which begins Wednesday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and it also avoided playing in the same bracket as Arizona.
The third-ranked Wildcats’ loss at Oregon earlier Saturday was the main reason for the Sun Devils’ uncertainty. Had the Ducks lost, ASU would have been guaranteed a first-round bye, no matter what happened in Berkeley. But ASU would have lost a three-team tiebreaker involving Oregon and either Stanford or Utah, making Cal’s victory — forcing a five-team tiebreaker — imperative.
So ASU can get an extra day of rest before it begins tournament play, and while it remains a sure thing to make the NCAA tournament, losing four of its last six regular-season games was not a splashy finish. The Sun Devils were projected as a No. 8 seed in most mock brackets following their loss to Oregon on Tuesday.
With Oregon’s strong finish and Cal’s victory Saturday, the Pac-12 could get as many as seven teams in the 68-team NCAA field despite having only Arizona ranked in the Associated Press top 25.
The Sun Devils are proceeding with blinders firmly in place, though, wary of upsets in other conference tournaments that could make things dicey on Selection Sunday.
"I think our mindset is, we have to keep winning basketball games," ASU associate head coach Eric Musselman said in a radio interview Saturday evening.
"There are so many things out of our control. You can go on and on and on about the different conferences. We’re in a situation where we need to continue to play good basketball and try to get some momentum heading into Selection Sunday."
As far as the game, which turned out to have negligble significance, ASU did little to distinguish itself against Oregon State (16-14, 8-10).
Jahii Carson had 24 points and seven assists and Jonathan Gilling had 20 points while making six 3-pointers, tying a career high. But the Sun Devils did not get normal production from the other "Jamigos," Jermaine Marshall and Jordan Baschynski. Marshall had five points on 1-for-12 shooting from the field before fouling out in overtime, and Bachynski had nine points and four rebounds.
Marshall’s only field goal of the game, a 3-pointer from the left wing, tied the game at 67 with 18.9 seconds remaining to force overtime, and it seemed a harbinger. He made two 3-pointers in the second overtime of a 69-66 victory over Arizona on Feb. 14, and his 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining forced overtime at Cal, a game ASU won 89-78, on Jan. 9. He had 25 points in an 86-82 overtime victory over Oregon State the first time the teams played Feb. 6, when his two free throws with 1.1 seconds sealed the decision.
"We had some guys struggle to find the basket," said Musselman, adding that Marshall’s off night was "hard for us to overcome, because we rely on him to manufacture points for us."
ASU could not overcome its size disadvantage. Oregon State forward Eric Moreland, who at 6-foot-11 was one of five Beavers who scored in double figures, had 16 points and 19 rebounds, nine offensive. Oregon State had a 44-33 rebounding edge and turned that advantage into 21 second-chance points. A "fourth-chance" basket by Nelson tied the game at 71 in overtime, and the Beavers made free throws on their next two possessions and never trailed again. It was 78-73 before Shaquille McKissic (12 points, nine rebounds) made a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining.
"Jon was absolutely fantastic from an offensive standpoint," Musselman said of Gilling. "Knocking down 6 of 7 from 3. When he makes shots, we usually win games.
"But again, the rebounds — we continue to talk about it. We have to be a better rebounding team. We have to rebound with more physicality."
California’s victory will give ASU another day to work through it.