It would have been a shame if Arizona State failed to beat Utah last night. The Utes were one of only two teams ranked lower than the Sun Devils in the Pac-12.
And, even though Utah had beaten ASU by 21 points in their last encounter in January, it was still a game against a team with a more disappointing record than their own – a team which had won just once in their last 11 games.
ASU is sitting in 10th place, Utah is 11th, and USC is in the Pac-12 cellar. But, hey, there’s one more game left with USC, who the Devils beat by nine points to begin January play.
At least one more game to look forward to.
Unfortunately, ASU won just twice more the rest of January – and then started February with a couple of losses. That’s been the story most of this season, which is why ASU is 8-16 overall and 4-8 in the conference.
But last night’s win is a psychological lift at a time when morale is sinking like a rock - even if it was a struggle to earn the five-point victory this time. A slow start in putting up points, plus 20 turnovers, contributed to the struggle.
The 57-52 home victory wasn’t exactly a high-scoring contest, but a win is a win.
Carrick Felix, the junior guard from Millennium High School in Goodyear, topped all scorers on the night, canning 15 points for the Sun Devils, including a couple of free throws with 11 seconds left in the game to seal the win.
Utah’s high scorer, Chris Hines, had just 10 points.
ASU head coach Herb Sendek had hoped the return of the team’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett, for this game would signal a turning point that would begin building some momentum for the final seven games.
His team-leading 13.9 points a game isn’t all he contributes. Before he was hurt in the Jan. 14 game with Oregon State, Lockett also led in rebounding, with 6.4 boards per game, and his 42 percent three-point shooting also topped the charts.
Without Lockett, who missed six games, the Devils won just one game during that stretch. The team scoring average dropped from 64 points a game to just over 52.
Lockett scored 12 points in his return – which is encouraging after nearly a month layoff.
The junior guard is one of the elder statesmen on a team that has no seniors on its roster – one of just nine teams in the 388 D-I schools that carry no seniors. His presence on the court is felt in so many ways that go beyond the statistics…energy, enthusiasm, leadership.
It will be good to have Lockett back in the line-up, but there isn’t much to salvage from the remainder of this season. If the Devils were to run the table and win out, including an improbable win over Arizona in the regular-season finale, they still wouldn’t have enough wins to get to a winning season.
They’re playing now for pride, hoping they can sneak up on a few teams before the season is done, and maybe pull off a huge upset by beating rival Arizona and giving them a big enough lift going into the Pac-12 Tournament that they might get past the first round.
It’s not much, but it’s about all they have left.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)