ASU can’t dig out of deep hole at Oregon

Oregon center Waverly Austin (20) attempts to block the shot of ASU guard Jahii Carson (1) Tuesday night at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore.

Arizona State did nothing to help itself Tuesday, when it gave up the first 15 points and never recovered against Oregon.

At the same time,  the 85-78 late night loss in Eugene should do nothing to harm the Sun Devils’ NCAA tournament standing, and they still have one more chance to get what they went on the road for, the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

ASU (21-9, 10-7) can lock itself into that third seed with a victory over Oregon State on Saturday. Not only will that give the Sun Devils a bye in the first round of the postseason tourney, but it will put them on the opposite side of the bracket from regular-season champion and No. 3-ranked Arizona.

"That is important for us," ASU assistant coach Stan Johnson said in a postgame radio interview. "We’ve fought all year and put together and really good season, and that would cap it off for us. We’re playing for a lot, especially if you want to give yourself a chance to make a run in the tournament. That will be something we will harp upon until Saturday."

The Sun Devils beat Arizona in double overtime on Feb. 14, their most important victory during a stretch in which they won eight of 11 entering the Oregon game, but they did not show the same wire-to-wire intensity that pushed past them past the Wildcats that night or helped them to convincing, double-digit victories over Stanford and California at home last week. Johnson used the word "flat" to describe the early effort against Oregon.

The Stanford and California victories made ASU an NCAA tournament no-brainer, and the Sun Devils were listed as an eighth seed in two faux tournament projections this week in a league that could get as seven teams in the tournament. But that did not ease some of the disappointment of the Oregon loss.

"Even though we think we are in good shape (to make the NCAA field), you have to be hungry," Johnson said

"What we want to do is be great. We don’t just want to get in. We don’t want to be average. We want to be great. That was the message coming in here. They punched us in the mouth. We responded, but when you give a team a 15-point lead, especially a team that is fighting to get in the tournament, it’s a struggle."

Oregon 85, ASU 78

The Ducks (21-8, 9-8) entered the game as a contender for one of the final spots in the 68-team NCAA tournament field after resuscitating their season with a victory UCLA last week, and they played to make a statement. They beat ASU down the floor for two uncontested layups and had several open 3-pointers for a 15-0 lead after five minutes. 

ASU recovered after coach Herb Sendek delivered a strong message during the first media timeout, but the Sun Devils never led, getting with one point with 8 ½ minutes left in the first half and three points midway through the season half. 

Not even Jahii Carson’s 28-point game, 22 in the second half, could push ASU over the hump as Oregon gradually pulled away down the stretch for its sixth straight victory entering its final regular-season game against Arizona on Saturday.

Jordan Bachynski had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and he added five blocked shots. Jermaine Marshall had 16 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field. Energizer Bo Barnes had 13 points. The Sun Devils were outrebounded, 40-33, made only 38.3 percent of their field goal attempts, a number was buoyed by late baskets in the final 90 seconds when they game had been decided.

"If you look at how we played last weekend, we set the tone defensively. We played together offensively. We had more juice, more pop," Johnson said of the Stanford and Cal victories.

"When we play that way, we can beat anybody in the country. When we don’t we’ll lose. It’s really that simple. That’s the formula for our team. We have to understand who we are. We have to get fifty-fifty plays. We have to be aggressive. That’s has to be who we are. When we do that, we are pretty good. When we don’t we are just an average team."

At the same time, the big picture did not change Tuesday. If the Sun Devils beat Oregon State (15-13, 7-9) on Saturday afternoon, they will be the third seed in the Pac-12 tournament no matter what any other team else does in the final four days of the regular season. UCLA (22-7, 11-5) locked up the No. 2 seed with ASU’s loss to Oregon, inasmuch as the Bruins win any tiebreaker in any other scenario involving teams that finish 11-7. UCLA plays at the Washington schools this weekend.

The Sun Devils wins all the tiebreakers involving Stanford, California and Colorado, no matter which combination of that group finishes 11-7, by virtue of its season sweep against Cal and its victory over Arizona. ASU still has a good chance to be a No. 3 seed if it loses to Oregon State, but the math is more complicated.

Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter