ASU handles USC to set up big opportunity at UCLA
As its rival and travel partner, No. 1 Arizona, survived a late-game scare across town, Arizona State simply took care of business and largely cruised through the back half Thursday night in Los Angeles.
ASU started its L.A. weekend off right with a 79-60 rout of USC, setting itself up nicely for a tougher test Sunday against UCLA.
Getting a decisive win in their conference road opener was a nice start for the Sun Devils, but getting a road sweep of the L.A. schools would provide a tremendous boost to their NCAA tournament resume.
Given the way UCLA rallied from down 13 to challenge Arizona on Thursday, though, getting a win at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday appears a tall task for ASU.
"It’s going to be a tough game," coach Herb Sendek said of the UCLA matchup on 620 KTAR following Thursday’s game. "They’re a talented team, and it should be a great challenge for us."
Handling USC the way they did Thursday should provide the Sun Devils (13-3, 2-1 Pac-12) a nice bit of momentum to ride across town.
On another night, USC might have been competitive. But, thin on talent, the Trojans could not overcome poor shooting, missed free throws and a slew of turnovers in their first home loss of the season. In the first half, they shot just 2 for 10 from 3-point range. They made just one 3-pointer in the second half, finishing 3 for 17.
USC shot 36.1 percent overall while ASU shot 46.4 percent.
It’s going to be a tough game. They’re a talented team, and it should be a great challenge for us.
ASU coach Herb Sendek on Sunday's game at UCLA
"Our 3-point field-goal percentage defense was really stellar," Sendek said. "On a night when there were a number of good things to feel good about, maybe none more than our defense."
That defense wreaked havoc on USC’s offense, forcing 16 turnovers and scoring 21 points off them. Half of those turnovers came in the final 10 minutes of the first half, a stretch in which ASU appeared out of sync offensively but still cruised to a 44-28 halftime lead.
"I thought we got our hands on more balls and created more turnovers in that (stretch) than we have in some time," Sendek said. "That’s really been lacking for our team. We’ve had a meager amount of steals and deflections. It’s something that doesn’t come easily for us."
The Trojans also beat themselves at the foul line, going 13 for 25 there. While the Sun Devils started slowly in the second half, allowing USC within 10 points, they rediscovered their rhythm and turned on cruise control to collect their second Pac-12 win.
ASU finished with four players in double figures in scoring, including point guard Jahii Carson with 18, but center Jordan Bachynski stood out amid the balanced attack. The senior tallied 20 points and 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double this season.
"It’s just so important for our team to have an inside presence," Sendek said. "I don’t remember the last team that didn’t have some kind of inside presence that was really good. It’s kind of one of those universal truths in basketball.
"When Jordan is aggressive and demanding the ball and we get it to him, good things typically happen for us."
The victory gives the Sun Devils a small credibility bump after splitting a pair of games with the Washington schools last weekend, but USC was by most measures a team they were supposed to beat. The credibility that would come from a win Sunday is much different.
ASU lost two of three games against UCLA last season, the first loss a costly road defeat and the second in the Pac-12 tournament. Sunday provides a chance for the Sun Devils to swing history back in their favor, and not just against the Bruins.
ASU has been swept by the Los Angeles schools six times in the past 10 seasons and has not won both games at any point in that stretch. More than history, though, the Sun Devils are looking to solidify their place within the conference and construct a profile fitting of an NCAA tournament berth.
While ASU looked generally out of rhythm on the offensive end, particularly in the first half, it took advantage of USC’s poor transition defense. This was especially true off turnovers. On the Trojans’ 16 turnovers, the Sun Devils scored 21 points. ASU was officially credited with 11 fast-break points
9 — double-doubles for ASU center Jordan Bachynski in 16 games this season after he had 20 points and 12 rebounds Thursday night. Bachysnki had just five double-doubles in his first 80 career games.
— After starting the night 1 of 7 from 3-point range, ASU made five straight to finish the half shooting 50 percent from long range, scoring 18 of its 44 first-half points on 3-pointers.
— Bachynski finished with two blocks Thursday night, leaving him at 257 for his career, juts one shy of former Arizona and current Phoenix Suns big man Channing Frye on the Pac-12’s career blocks list. Bachynski remains 21 behind all-time Pac-12 leader Anthony Cook, who had 278.
— Thursday’s loss was USC’s first at home this season. It was also first-year coach Andy Enfield’s first loss at the Galen Center.
ASU won’t see USC — or UCLA after Sunday — again during the regular season. The L.A. teams don’t travel to the desert this year, so the next possible meeting between the Sun Devils and a Southern California foe would come in the Pac-12 tournament, if at all.