The Arizona State men’s basketball team has had just nine wins all season and two in the entire month of February, is just three rungs up from the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, and has no hope for post-season play.
So what kind of motivation can they summon going into the final game of a miserably disappointing season?
Simple. They have a chance to spoil the whole season for their hated rival in Tucson.
That’s so much better than snagging the half-point the winner gets in the Territorial Cup competition.
If the unranked and disrespected Sun Devils can pull off a huge upset of the University of Arizona, it would be a big blow to Arizona’s resume as it makes an argument for securing a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
(*Update: There must have been enough motivation, as ASU stuns the Wildcats with an 87-80 victory at Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils got 21 points from three different players – Trent Lockett, Carrick Felix and a freshman named Jonathan Gilling – to overwhelm the Cats. Arizona may now have to win the conference tournament to be assured a spot in the NCAA Tournament; the loss to rival ASU dims their hopes of an at-large berth.)
Right now, Arizona could be considered a bubble team, despite its 21 wins. Unless they were to make a big splash in the Pac-12 tournament, a loss to ASU could pop the bubble they’re sitting on going into Sunday’s final game of the season.
OK, so the Wildcats aren’t nationally-ranked either. But turn ASU’s record upside-down and you’ll see the only comparison to Arizona… ASU is 9-20 and Arizona is 21-9. From another perspective, Arizona is carrying an RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) of 73 and ASU is way down the chart with a 252 RPI.
And that’s pretty much the story of this season for ASU, as the Sun Devils’ world has been turned upside down from the time they were told the NCAA had ruled their incoming 4-star point guard, Jahii Carson, ineligible for the season.
Since that point early in the season, head coach Herb Sendek has tried to put the puzzle together without the missing piece. Thanks to the lack of a true point guard and assorted injuries to key players, Sendek has put 11 different starting line-ups on the floor to try and find the magic formula. Not a single player on this year’s roster has played in all 29 games.
It doesn’t help that the team is young and lacks a lot of experience. There isn’t a senior on the squad this year.
The Cats, on the other hand, have found their winning formula. Unlike the Devils, they had a very successful February, losing just one game all month – to the conference leader, Washington.
And they swept both games of their California swing last week, rolling over USC by 16 and then squeaking out a two-point win over UCLA.
Leading the way lately has been the Cats’ senior guard, Kyle Fogg, who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week after the California games. He averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds.
ASU doesn’t have an answer to Fogg’s game right now, nor to Jesse Perry, who led the charge against the Devils in their last meeting, scoring 16 points in the Dec. 31 game. The 6’7″ senior forward also scored 16 points in the UCLA game last week.
Arizona dominated the first Territorial Cup game this season, stepping out to a 24-point lead in the second half to cruise to a 68-51 win in Tucson.
It’s hard to see how the Sun Devils are going to do much better this time – despite the fact that the game is being played on their court.
Motivation can take a team just so far.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)