Sun Devils hoping for a reset in NCAAs
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Jahii Carson returned to Arizona State for a chance to lead the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
After some sketchy moments at the end of the season, the Sun Devils got an invite on Selection Sunday and will open the NCAA tournament against Texas on Thursday in Milwaukee as the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region.
Now that the door has been opened, Carson and his teammates want to barge through.
''Anything can happen now,'' said Carson, Arizona State's sophomore point guard. ''We're in there.''
They're there, but will need to play a little better to keep it from being a short trip.
Arizona State (21-11) managed to tie for third in the Pac-12 at 10-8, but limped to the finish. The Sun Devils lost five of their final seven games, including the last three.
A big problem was getting off to slow starts.
The Sun Devils fell behind 15-0 to Oregon, 9-1 to Oregon State and 9-1 to Stanford in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, a string of losses that made Selection Sunday a little more nerve-wracking than it should have been.
Now they get a fresh start.
''Everybody has a sense of rebirth going into the tournament,'' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. ''I don't think the games that were most recently played necessarily carry over. I've done it long enough to see so many stark examples of that.''
Had they played a little better down the stretch, the Sun Devils might have gotten a better seed and an easier opening game.
Instead, they get the Longhorns (23-10), a long, athletic team that's relentless on the offensive glass, averaging 15.1 offensive rebounds per game.
But, like Arizona State, Texas struggled late in the season, losing five of eight, including a 17-point setback to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament.
If the Sun Devils manage to get past the Longhorns, they still have a tough road ahead, with a potential matchup against No. 2 seed Michigan in their next game and a bracket that includes Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and undefeated Wichita State.
''We have to prepare well, then when the game comes, we're going to have to play together and hopefully play our best,'' Sendek said. ''I don't think we've necessarily played our best lately, but we've played very good teams.''
It's been a tough road for the Sun Devils to get back to the dance.
After going 8-22 in Sendek's first season in 2006-07, Arizona State won 21 games and didn't get an NCAA invite in 2008. The Sun Devils were in the bracket during a 25-win season in 2009, but were left out the following season after going 22-11.
A pair of losing seasons followed and Arizona State won 21 games last season, but didn't get in.
There were some tense moments as the Sun Devils watched Selection Sunday together and erupted in cheers when their name went up on the screen.
''It's hard not to be (emotional) in a situation like this,'' ASU center Jordan Bachynski said. ''You put your whole everything into this. Your blood, literally your blood. Your sweat. Your tears. Your emotions. Everything you have goes into this. We're working hard every day to make the tournament, to win games. To have this happen to us is a dream come true.''
The matchup will allow Sendek to reunite with a close friend, though from opposing sidelines.
Sendek and Texas coach Rick Barnes met in 1978 and were on the same staff for a season when Barnes was the head coach at Providence. They never worked together again, but stayed in touch and remain friends today.
''He's somebody who I consider a great friend, somebody who is not only a great basketball coach, but even a better person,'' Sendek said. ''He's the kind of man that if you have a son, that's who you want him to play for. He's that good of person. I just have tremendous respect for coach. What he's been able to do at Texas over the years is incredible. He's really taken that program to unprecedented and sustained heights.''
With a return to the NCAA tournament, Sendek is hoping to do the same thing in the desert.