No. 25 Arizona State hits road to Washington

Seven teams in the last five seasons have beaten national power Kansas in Lawrence or Kansas City, the Jayhawks’ second home, 42 miles east of campus via I-70.

Arizona State and Washington, two of the three Pac-12 teams to have done that, will meet in Seattle on Thursday when the stretch run of the conference season — and the jockeying for NCAA tournament berths — begins in earnest.

The No. 25 Sun Devils (16-5, 4-5 in the Pac-12) rose to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 after their 95-85 victory in Lawrence on Dec. 10, when Tra Holder scored 29 points, Shannon Evans II had 22 and Remy Martin had 21 in his ninth college game.

Washington (15-6, 5-3) beat the Jayhawks in Kansas City five days earlier, 74-65, behind Noah Dickerson’s double-double and 18 points from Matisse Thybulle.

The Huskies, third in the Pac-12, have not found their way into the rankings this season.

If it is unwise to draw comparisons based on a five-day sample size, it is at the same time clear that the Pac-12 can play with anyone. Oregon eliminated Kansas from the NCAA tournament in the Elite Eight in Kansas City last March.

Arizona State, the last undefeated team in Division I while rising to 12-0, has ping-ponged through the first half of Pac-12 play. After losing at Arizona, the Sun Devils have split each of their four two-game weekend series. They have lost the first game in each set and won the second.

The Sun Devils showed the form they used to beat No. 7 Kansas and No. 6 Xavier in an 80-66 victory over Colorado last Saturday, making 3-pointers on six of seven possessions to break the game open in the second half.

The turnaround started on the defensive end, where Arizona State limited Colorado to 42.2 percent shooting and created 17 turnovers.

“We know what we are capable of,” said Evans II, who like Holder had three 3-pointers in the pivotal run. “That one game didn’t open our eyes. We know what we can do, what we are used to doing. It’s just a matter of time of us getting back to that.

“Honestly, I think we’re the best team (in the league). You can say standings and all that, but we know what we did in nonconference. We held the conference down for real. If it wasn’t for us in the nonconference, the Pac-12 was nothing. We feel like we’re the best team. We just have to prove it.”

After a bit of a slump, Holder is averaging 19.3 points per game and Evans II is at 16.7. The Sun Devils have looked to get the ball inside more in recent games as opponents have loaded the perimeter.

“I think I have to take more longer shots because they are crowding the lane,” Holder said, taking a page from the Trae Young playbook.

Washington has won four of its last six games, including two over rival Washington State, and first-year coach Mike Hopkins has the team poised for a run at its first NCAA berth since 2011.

Hopkins, a player and a long-time assistant under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, has installed the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense to great success. The Huskies are limiting opponents to 41.9 percent shooting in Pac-12 play, 27.0 percent from three-point range.

Arizona State averages nine 3-pointers per game.

“One of the most consistent winning systems in the history of college basketball,” Hopkins said after the 80-62 victory over Washington State on Sunday. “It’s been proven by the great James Arthur Boeheim.”

Guard Thybulle has 18 points and three 3-pointers in each of the last two games, and he is a sticky defender. He had his first career double-double against Arizona State last season, when the Sun Devils won both meetings. This is the only game between the two this season.