A block, a dunk… and ASU has historic upset of No. 2 UA

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                </div>  So many times this season, the University of Arizona men’s basketball team pulled out win after win in the final minutes by clamping down on defense and somehow managing […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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So many times this season, the University of Arizona men’s basketball team pulled out win after win in the final minutes by clamping down on defense and somehow managing to keep a school-record 21-game win streak alive until California ended it a couple of games ago.

But last night, the Arizona State Sun Devils weren’t going to let those late-game heroics keep them from giving their in-state rivals just their second loss of the year.

However, it did take two nail-biting overtimes to do it.

With 5.5 seconds left in the second overtime, Jordan Bachynski blocked a shot that landed in the hands of his point guard, Jahii Carson, who took it the length of the court and slammed home a dunk that resonated into the history books.  By beating No. 2-ranked Arizona last night in Tempe, 69-66, unranked Arizona State knocked off the highest-ranked team on its own court  in the history of its basketball program. (The Sun Devils beat No. 1 Oregon State in 1981, but it was on the road.)

It was as if the Sun Devils drew some kind of inspiration from the upset of their women’s team the week before, when the unranked Wildcats, who entered the game win-less in 11 Pac-12 contests, shocked the then-No. 12 Sun Devil women, 68-49.  Just five days earlier, Arizona was dominated by ASU in a 60-36 loss.

Similarly, the ASU men were also embarrassed by their in-state rivals four weeks ago in a 91-68 blow-out in Tucson.

But that meant little in last night’s second match-up as ASU (19-6, 8-4) went toe-to-toe with the team that had held the No. 1 spot in the country for 37 weeks and was on the way to a Pac-12 coronation and a deep run into the NCAA Tournament next month.  This was a second opportunity for a major upset that would likely seal ASU’s bid to the NCAA Tournament, should they be able to run out the rest of their schedule with enough wins to get a serious look from the selection committee.  Beating Arizona (23-2, 10-2) will definitely pump up the ol’ resume.

And, whether you were rooting for the top dog or the under dog in this one, it was hard to look away for more than a couple of minutes as the Wildcats were never able to pull away from the pesky Devils, and an upset was on everybody’s mind from halftime on.  No more than six points separated the two teams throughout the first half and Arizona had to go on a 4-2 run to close out the half with a five-point lead.

About that time, the sold-out crowd at Wells Fargo Arena, who had shown up to give their boys some love on Valentine’s Day, began to sense an upset in the air, and when ASU took a 29-28 lead a few minutes into the second half, the place began to rock in earnest.

Arizona made another surge to re-take the lead, but Carson, who is likely headed to the NBA next year, strung together six straight points to give ASU its largest lead of the game at 47-41 with 7 1/2 minutes to play.  It was beginning to look like the impossible was now possible, and the raucous crowd displayed its thirst for the win on every possession.

The Cats had a golden opportunity for the win, with the game tied at 51 and 13 seconds to score the game-winner.  But an Aaron Gordon runner came up short and the game went into overtime.

Carson tried to take over the game in the first overtime, trying to give himself one-on-one opportunities with constant ball movement and a mesmerizing display of dribbling, which just ended up taking the game into a second overtime.  About that time, head coach Herb Sendek must have sent them back out onto the court with a message about team play.

It was Jermaine Marshall‘s turn to take over in the final period.  The senior guard hit a couple of back-to-back three-point shots, sunk a free throw, and added a lay-up to power ASU to the three-point victory.  Arizona’s senior point guard, T.J. McConnell, was on his way to giving the Cats the lead – and likely the win – in the final seconds, but Bachynski used his full 7’2″ height to reach up and block McConnell’s floater.  It was one of three blocks the senior from Canada contributed in the game, along with seven rebounds and 13 points.

After the security crew cleared the floor of the mob of fans who descended from the stands to begin celebrating a little too early, Arizona had less than a second left on the clock, time enough for a catch-and-shoot by junior guard Nick Johnson – a 40-footer that nearly cancelled out the ASU celebration, but bounced off the front of the rim.

And right down to the final two-handed dunk by Carson, Uncle Herb was the coolest dude in the room.  The eighth-year head coach looked unfazed and in control along the sidelines and during time-outs, and the team seemed to feed off that calm confidence.  

And Sendek was just as calm and collected after the game when the media pulled him into the post-game interview.  Just another day at the office, guys.  

He had no trouble acknowledging that his team didn’t play its best game on offense, but felt the defense held it together for them, making key stops when needed.  The Devils were out-rebounded 54-35 and shot just 58 percent from the free-throw line.

“I think our guys gave a great effort on defense and it was really a team defensive effort,” he said in analyzing his team’s performance.  “Our defense allowed us to hang around in the neighborhood because it’s really hard to score against Arizona.

“The most incredible thing to me, looking at the stat sheet, is to be out-rebounded as badly as we were and still be in the game.”

Marshall, who didn’t play in the previous game against the then-No. 1 Wildcats, led the way this time with a season-high 29 points.  Carson added 17 points and six assists.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)