LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Arizona State has spent the last several weeks in denial, at least publicly, of its impending NCAA tournament berth, evidence notwithstanding. Most on the outside disagree. ASU entered this week as a No. 8 or No. 9 NCAA seed, depending on the faux bracket considered.
Now, the Sun Devils will have to hope they have been wrong.
As an NCAA bubble team, Stanford most certainly had more to play for Thursday, and it showed. The Cardinal (21-11) ran away from third-seeded ASU in the second half for a 79-58 victory in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, exploiting their usual mismatches against a Sun Devil team that could not find enough offense to counter.
Jahii Carson, Jermaine Marshall and Jordan Bachynski combined for one field goal in the first half, and it did not get a lot better moving forward as Carson finished with 10 points, Bachynski seven and Marshall four.
ASU (21-11) has lost five of its last seven games and is on its first three-game losing streak of the season. While the skid has come an at inopportune time, the Sun Devils should be able to use that as motivation heading into what would be their first NCAA tournament since 2009 after the bids are announced Sunday afternoon.
"We had a little bit of a sluggish end, but I think we built a good resume over the course of the season," Carson said. "We stepped up and beat some pretty good teams. Hopefully they put us in."
ASU is one of just three teams this season to beat No. 3 Arizona, which put on a devastating defensive display in a 71-39 victory over Utah on Thursday. The Sun Devils are 9-9 against top-100 teams. ASU entered the Pac-12 tournament with an RPI of 38, better than Pitt, Iowa, Kansas State, Minnesota and, yes, Stanford, which put 6-foot-5 Anthony Brown on Carson with good results.
Stanford now should be one of six Pac-12 teams in the NCAA tournament, along with Arizona, UCLA, ASU, Colorado and Oregon. Cal remained on the bubble with a loss to Colorado on Thursday, and Utah’s loss probably dropped it into the NIT.
"It sucks. It’s always tough when there is nothing you can do right now," Bachynski said.
Said ASU coach Herb Sendek: "If you listen to all the pundits, there is every reason to feel confident. Our guys don’t feel good right now. It would be disingenuous of me to say that they don’t hurt and feel disappointed about the way they played, but I’ve been doing this long enough to see so many teams lose in the conference tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Things change quickly. We just have to regroup and move forward."
This was not the game ASU wanted as a last impression. Stanford (21-11) used a 21-6 run midway through the second half to take a 72-51 lead while handing its ASU its second-most-decisive loss of the season. The Sun Devils, who suffered a 23-point loss at Arizona in the second week of the Pac-12 season, shot 40 percent from the field and were outrebounded by 11. Stanford was plus-19 in rebounding in the three meetings this season, winning two.
"We had had the life sucked out of us by our inability to convert some opportunities on offense," Sendek said. "That shouldn’t be the case, I understand that. Hopefully you still do what you are supposed to do with your defensive gameplan."
The matchups are always problematic against Stanford, which has long, athletic fowards in Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis and a good perimeter shooter in Chasson Randle. Powell and Huestis combined for 27 points and 12 rebounds, and Randle had 21 points. When Stanford 7-foot center Stefan Nastic is on the bench, Bachynski has a difficult matchup with either Powell or Huestis. ASU tried him on both and finally went to a small lineup with 6-foot-7 Jonathan Gilling as the biggest player on the floor for the last 12:44.
"We were really having a hard time, as we had in the past, with Jordan guarding Powell on the perimeter, and so we at that point wanted to at least try something else. Obviously it didn’t work a great deal better," Sendek said.
Gilling pushed Bachynski in the chest seven minutes into the second half, but it was more a tough-love tap than anything else
"Jon is a competitor and he wants to win. At that point, it’s kind of what I needed," Bachynski said. "We’ve been together for a while. We are going to get in each other’s faces. We’re a family. And there is never a family moment without drama. He was just trying to help me out. There was no malice. He really wants to win, and he wants to get guys going, and that’s what he was trying to do for me."