ASU’s challenge: ‘Stay together’

The challenge going forward for Arizona State (4-9, 0-1) is simply to keep believing.

“We want to stay together and stay focused,” sophomore point guard Keala King said after the Sun Devils opened Pac-12 play with a lopsided 68-51 loss at rival Arizona. “We don’t want to get away from what coach is trying to do. We just got to stay as a unit.”

ASU trailed by as many as 24 points in the second half and dropped its fourth straight game. By the time the Sun Devils play at USC on Jan. 5, it will have been 26 days since their most recent victory. Junior G Trent Lockett understands it’s time for the Sun Devils to show what they’re made of.

“Leaders don’t come from standing up in a pep rally,” Lockett said. “They come from times like these when everyone’s down.”

ASU coach Herb Sendek is worried his team’s confidence is crumbling after losing three games on the final possession, then getting blown out by the Wildcats.

“I thought our guys were knocked back a little bit,” Sendek said after the loss at Arizona. “I thought they had big eyes. They didn’t play with a whole lot of comfort.

“We’ve taken a number of rib shots. We’re coming off of three buzzer-beaters in a row. I don’t think that we played like a team that had the kind of confidence that you would need … in this environment.”

King, still learning to play the point guard position, said the Devils were rushing.

“We were letting their defense dictate what we were doing.”

NOTES, QUOTES

— At 4-9 overall following their loss at Arizona in the Pac-12 opener, the Sun Devils are off to their worst start since the 1986-87 season. That team, which also began 4-9, finished the season at 11-17.

— The Sun Devils shot just 36 percent at Arizona and converted just 4 of 15 from 3-point range.

— The Sun Devils’ 51 points against Arizona marked their second-lowest total of the season. It also was the ninth time in a span of 10 games they failed to reach 70 points.

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 and 18 — The Sun Devils had one more turnover than basket in the loss at Arizona.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We need to be better on both ends of the floor, but right now our offense doesn’t put us in position to have any room for error.” — ASU coach Herb Sendek.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

— at USC, Jan. 5

KEY MATCHUPS: These are the Pac-12’s two stingiest defensive teams, so don’t be surprised if the winner barely cracks 50 points. ASU was swept by the Trojans last season, scoring an average of just 53.5 points in the two games. They will try to coax a little more from their offense here and must lock down USC’s high-scoring sophomore G Maurice Jones.

— at UCLA, Jan. 7

KEY MATCHUPS: No team in the conference has brought the Sun Devils more grief than the Bruins, who have dominated the all-time series 59-17. UCLA won both matchups a year ago, and the Bruins had their way in Los Angeles, winning 71-53. ASU must get its share of rebounds from one of the league’s biggest teams and attack C Joshua Smith in hopes of getting him into foul trouble.

FUTURES MARKET: Freshman F Jonathan Gilling, who had averaged 7.3 points over his three previous games, was held to one point in 24 minutes against Arizona. A 6-foot-7 native of Valduz, Denmark, Gilling was 0-for-2 from 3-point range, but did deliver a career-high six assists. In three previous games, Gilling shot 7-for-13 from the field and 3-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.

PLAYER NOTES

— C Ruslan Pateev was ASU’s only player to score in double figures in the loss at Arizona, posting a career-high 12 points. He also had six rebounds. Pateev, a 7-foot junior from Moscow, Russia, hadn’t even played in the Devils’ previous game against Fresno State.

— G Trent Lockett shot just 2 for 8 and scored eight points against Arizona. Lockett actually has shot the ball well recently, just not as well as he did earlier in the season. He averaged 17.5 points over ASU’s first six games this year, but just 9.9 over the next seven.

— PG Keala King had five turnovers and just three assists to go with eight points vs. Arizona. It was a step back in his development as a floor leader following three games in which he averaged 18 points and had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.