Tenacious 'D' marks Felix's senior season
TEMPE, Ariz. – Carrick Felix will play his final two home games this week, and it seems obvious that Arizona State will have a hard time replacing his tenacity and spirit in years to come. Felix has stepped up that much in his senior year, a year of personal growth and commitment after the birth of his first child.
Opponents are probably saying "just go, already."
Felix has developed into the one of the Pac-12’s best defensive players this season, and he may be the favorite for the league’s defensive player of the year award as the Sun Devils (19-7, 8-5) continue their push toward their first NCAA appearance since 2009 with games against Washington State (Wednesday night) and Washington (Saturday).
Buoyed by an overtime victory at Colorado, Arizona State is tied with California for fourth place in the league, two games behind Oregon and one behind Arizona and UCLA. The Sun Devils can make up more ground with games against Arizona and UCLA on the road the final two weeks of the season. Current NCAA bracket projections have ASU in the "bubble" category.
Evan Gordon hit a driving layup at the buzzer to beat Colorado and Jahii Carson had 18 points in last Saturday's win at Colorado, but another lock-down defensive effort by Felix had a lot to do with the outcome.
Felix, a 6-foot-6 wing, held Colorado’s Andre Roberson to eight points on 4-for-11 shooting from the floor, the second time this season Felix has blanketed Roberson, who was 2 of 10 in Tempe in January.
“If there’s an underrated player in our league, Carrick Felix would be toward the top of that list for what he does for that team on both ends of the floor,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said between the first and second games between the two.
Roberson is part of a large club as Felix attempts to succeed California’s Jorge Gutierrez as the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. Felix has given Oregon forward E. J. Singler and Oregon State guard Roberto Nelson, among others, similar treatment this year.
Washington State leading scorer Brock Motum, a 6-10 forward who is more comfortable on the perimeter, got the short straw the last time the teams played and is expected to face Felix again Wednesday night (7 p.m., Wells Fargo Arena). Motum had 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting in the Sun Devils’ 63-59 victory over the Cougars in Pullman on Jan. 29.
“He’s had a brilliant senior year,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said of Felix.
“He’s been a fantastic leader on a daily and consistent basis. Then on the court, on both ends of the floor. He has played outstanding basketball and just imposed his will on our team in so many instances.”
Felix has melded the two qualities most necessary, athleticism and want-to, to become a relentless defender.
“He’s blessed with outstanding athletic talent," Sendek said. "But it’s important to him, so he gives great effort. Those two things combined are a terrific combination, if you are blessed with athletic talent and you have the will to do it and it is important to you. That tends to create a pretty good result."
Felix likely will match up early against Washington guard and top scorer C.J. Wilcox when the teams meet Saturday night. Felix got in foul trouble in the first meeting with the Huskies, a 96-92 Washington victory, but with Gordon also stalking him, Wilcox scored only 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting. Sure, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar noticed.
“He’s athletic. He’s strong. He’s physical. He anticipates well. I think he is a very good defender,” Romar said of Felix.
Carson had 32 points in the Washington game, and another Phoenix-area product will require some minding Wednesday. Sunnyslope High grad Royce Woolridge had 36 points in an overtime loss to Oregon last week, including 6-of-9 3-pointers. Woolridge, who transferred from Kansas and sat out last season, led the Cougars with 16 points in the first game against Arizona State, making 2-of-6 3-pointers.
Woolridge has taken over the point guard in position in place of injured Mike Ladd, who is not expected to play Wednesday night. Motum, who was given an elbow to the head by Oregon center Tony Woods last Saturday, momentarily left the game but returned shortly thereafter and is feeling no ill effects, Cougars coach Ken Bone said.
“He has really hit his stride for them,” Sendek said of Woolridge.
“I think he is getting more and more comfortable with our system and his role,” Bone said.
After dominating UCLA in a 78-60 victory on Jan. 26, the Sun Devils’ last six games have been decided by five points or less. The total margin: 21 points.
“That seems to be the rule rather than the exception in college basketball today,” Sendek said.