ASU can't handle Washburn in loss to Utah
On a night when Arizona State found a new hero, Utah turned to an old ASU nemesis to put a severe crimp into the Sun Devils' NCAA tournament chances.
Arizona State senior Chris Colvin had his most efficient game of the season and helped kick-start the Sun Devils with his energetic play off the bench, but Utah, behind center Jason Washburn, controlled the game down the stretch in a 60-55 Pac-12 upset victory in Salt Lake City.
Colvin's 3-pointer from the left wing with 7:12 remaining gave ASU a 49-41 lead, and his presence seemed to give the Sun Devils the separation they needed after a lethargic first half in which they trailed by as many as nine.
But the Utes scored 19 of the final 26 points after Colvin's three, ending on a 13-2 run, for what might be considered their best victory of the season, although they beat Colorado in their previous home game.
Washburn, 6-foot-10, had a career high 26 points, and he had eight in the final four-plus minutes, including all six free of his free-throw attempts. Most of his points came on relatively easy shots in and around the lane.
"He absolutely had his way with us, with just a terrific high energy," ASU coach Herb Sendek said.
Washburn had his second strong game against the Sun Devils this season, and he was the latest big man to cause them problems. He had 19 points and 18 rebounds in Arizona State's 55-54 overtime victory on Jan. 2, although he missed two 10-foot jump hooks in the final seconds of overtime that would have won that game.
"We have trouble matching up with him. Our centers have allowed him to get to the baseline. We talk about not giving him angles, and he got angles to the basket. Because he goes baseline, it is hard to trap him," ASU assistant coach Larry Greer said.
After losing it second straight game, Arizona State (18-7, 7-5) finds itself facing a series of almost must-win games as it attempts to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since James Harden's last team in 2009. The Sun Devils play four of their final six on the road -- at Colorado, USC, UCLA and Arizona.
The Sun Devils were a game behind tri-leaders Arizona, UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12 standings entering the game, but they now find themselves tied in the loss column with California, Colorado, Stanford and USC in the middle of the league as they prepare to play at Colorado on Saturday. With an RPI of 64 and a strength of schedule ranked 102nd, the Sun Devils need all the victories they can get.
In its home loss to Stanford last Saturday, the Sun Devils had so many matchup problems with 6-9 Dwight Powell and 6-7 Josh Huestis that they went to a small lineup without a center for the final 14 minutes, speeding up the game almost enough to overcome a 16-point halftime in a 62-59 loss. Powell and Huestis had double-doubles, combining for 35 points and 22 rebounds.
After Washburn scored 15 first-half points from close range to help the Utes (11-13, 3-9) to a 29-22 halftime lead, Arizona State again used smaller group and a three-quarter court press to create tempo and keep the Utes from getting into their offense as easily. With Colvin taking charge, the Sun Devils were able to keep Washburn from doing much damage until late.
Colvin had 10 points, six rebounds and a team-high four assists, and he was especially valuable in a stretch early in the second half on the Sun Devils' 22-9 run that gave them an eight-point lead, their largest of the game. Colvin made a free throw, a driving bank shot and his 3-pointer in that run, when he also had assists on two baskets by Carrick Felix (14 points, 11 rebounds) and another by Jordan Bachynski.
"He brings us energy. We think he is our second-best defender behind Carrick (Felix)," Greer said. "We picked up our energy in the second half, we were more aggressive."
But as well as ASU played in that stretch, it went cold from that point, scoring only one more basket, a driving bank shot by Jahii Carson for a 53-47 lead with 3:00 remaining. The Sun Devils' only other points came on a Carson free throw and a Ruslan Pateev slam follow after a Carson driving miss with 25.8 seconds remaining. ASU made one of its last seven field-goal attempts.
The Utes, meanwhile, crept in front on a baseline layup and two free throws by Washburn, a 3-pointer and two free throws from freshman guard Brandon Taylor and two clinching free throws by Jarred DuBois.
Carson had 12 points and six turnovers as Utah concentrated on disrupting him. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak used a box-one-on defense against Carson on a dozen possessions in the first half, and even played some triangle-and-two, with defenders assigned to Carson and Felix and the other three playing a zone. It worked to an extent -- ASU's 22 points tied for a season first-half low.
Carson missed a floater in the lane before Washburn's field goal with 1:26 remaining gave Utah a 54-53 lead, and his reach-in foul with 31.6 seconds remaining in the game and three seconds on the shot clock led to Taylor's two foul shots and a 56-53. After Pateev's slam follow, ASU was forced to foul, and the Utes made four free throws in the final 21 seconds.
"There were just things that didn't make a whole lot of sense," Sendek said of the late fouls. "We didn't finish the game the way we needed to."
ASU committed 20 fouls to Utah's 12, and the Utes were 17 for 23 from the foul line. Arizona State was 4 for 10.
"We have to come back with a sense of urgency against Colorado," Greer said.