No. 8 Utah too much for ASU to handle

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State’s new-look backcourt provided a step in the right direction Thursday, making inroads on limiting turnovers and creating good looks for shooters.

Sun Devils, though, were playing one of the best teams in the nation, and this the outcome was not any better.

No. 8 Utah ranks in the top 11 in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense and scoring defense, and the Utes looked all of that in their 76-59 victory at Wells Fargo Arena. They led by as many as 28 and limited ASU to 39.3 percent shooting.

Some of the Sun Devils’ scoring troubles could be traced to a tentativeness born of missed shots early. ASU had some decent shots early in the first half that did not go down, and as result seemed a bit reluctant to continue to shoot even as the good ones continued to present themselves with Tra Holder and Kodi Justice orchestrating the show.

"Every coach in the country harps on his guys about not taking bad shots," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "Few things can hurt a team worse than taking bad shots consistently.

"But there were a couple of instances where we were open and had good shots but maybe because we had missed a few we passed on that shot only to fight the shot clock and end up with a worse shot later on."

ASU (8-9, 0-4) is the only winless team in the Pac-12 as it prepares to face Colorado (9-7, 2-2) on Saturday afternoon.

The Sun Devils were better on one front. They committed only 13 turnovers, their lowest total since a Dec. 13 victory over Pepperdine. They had not had fewer than 15 in the seven games since, and in their first three Pac-12 games featured 50 field goals and 53 turnovers.

No. 8 Utah 76, ASU 59

But ASU struggled to stop Utah’s precision offense. Guard Delon Wright, an early Pac-12 player of the year candidate, had 21 points and teammates Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor chipped in with 14 and 13, respectively.

Wright made only four field goals, but he was 12 for 12 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Utes (14-2, 4-0) had one of their best shooting games of the season. They shot 53.7 percent from the floor and were 9 of 17 on 3-point attempts. Loveridge was 3 of 5 from long range, and his 3 on the Utes’ second possession gave them a lead they did not lose.

Loveridge’s next 3 from the left wing with 10:50 left in the half started an 18-3 run. Guard Gerry Blakes had ASU’s only points in that stretch, on a driving layup and free throw. It was 40-23 at half.

"It has to start with our half-court defense," Sendek said.

Blakes had 10 points, the only Sun Devil in double figures, while starting at off guard, his natural position, after being force-fed on the point in the first four Pac-12 games, an experiment that did not take.

Savon Goodman came within a point of his third double-double of the season, finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds despite playing only 24 minutes before fouling out. He was not alone. Center Eric Jacobsen had eight points but played only 17 minutes because of foul trouble, and Jonathan Gilling fouled out in 16 minutes. Several of those fouls came very late in the shot clock. A few others came when defenders created contact after he was caught in the air on a ball fake.

Goodman and Jacobsen were 7 of 11 from the field and combined for just 41 minutes.

"We’re not going to be in the position we want when Eric, Jon and Savon are in the kind of foul trouble that they were in, but that’s on us," Sendek said. "We have to play without fouling. We had too many unnecessary fouls. You just have to have more discipline to not foul. Few things are emphasized in our program more than that."

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