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Arizona State’s offense crumbles to Cal’s zone defense in home loss

Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) goes up for a shot against California center Kingsley Okoroh (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. California defeated Arizona State 68-43. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State entered Wednesday with what is statistically one the worst defenses in the Pac-12, so when the Sun Devils couldn’t get their offense going, it became a long night.

ASU was contained by California’s disciplined zone defense, falling 68-43 at Wells Fargo Arena.

The Golden Bears (18-6) were able to use the conference’s third-best scoring defense to exploit Arizona State’s difficulty scoring in the half-court. The Sun Devils (11-14) shot a season-low 25.4 percent from the field and had trouble even finding open looks.

Shannon Evans II, Tra Holder and the other Arizona State ball-handlers couldn’t break down the zone either for themselves or their teammates. That led to below-average three-point shooting — producing a 3-of-25 final tally for the team.

Leading scorer Torian Graham was 1-of-14 overall and 0-of-9 from deep. Graham, Holder and Evans — the team’s three leading scorers — combined to shoot 0-of-17 from three-point range.

Junior guard Kodi Justice was vocal about how he felt about the team’s performance after the game.

“It was embarrassing to perform like that,” Justice said. “People weren’t 100-percent ready.”

Head coach Bobby Hurley said there was a lot of dribbling laterally by the guards, playing into Cal’s zone.

“They had a really good plan for us in this game,” Hurley said of Cal, which played zone the entire game as opposed to the teams’ first meeting in Berkeley.

At one point, the Sun Devils missed 15 straight shots, and Cal extended its lead to 15 during that run.

Both teams entered the game lacking a playmaker to create for others, be it at guard, on the wing or inside.

Heading into the game, Cal was tied for 246th in the nation in assists, with freshman Charlie Moore the only player averaging over 2.5 a game. ASU entered 218th in the nation and has only Shannon Evans II and Tra Holder over 2.5 a game.

The difference for the two teams in Wednesday night’s matchup was California is one of the best defensive team in the country while Arizona State is one of the worst.

Even after accumulating 11 turnovers in the first half, Cal led 28-17 behind a solid defensive performance that forced ASU to shoot 7-of-29 from the field. Believe it or not, the game was tied at 17 with 6:19 left in the first half, but the Golden Bears corrected their mistakes while the Sun Devils couldn’t find a solution to their issues.

On offense, the Sun Devils continued to float around the perimeter and struggled to create. Holder and Evans combined for one assist in the first half and finished the night with four.

Cal sophomore power forward Ivan Rabb — the projected first-round NBA Draft pick and probably the reason Suns general manager Ryan McDonough was in the building — was doubled on every post touch by the Sun Devils. But once Rabb realized the double didn’t mean he still couldn’t get off good look, he found success, doubling his point total in the last few minutes of the first half. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

That speaks to ASU’s defensive struggles and lack of an interior presence other than the undersized Obinna Oleka, who scored 12 points to go with 14 rebounds.

The effort for the Sun Devils to defeat the zone was there in the first half, but the individual shot creators started to become too overeager and began rushing their shots in the second half, giving Cal the perfect chance to extend their league and seal the win.

That turned into more defensive breakdowns and a lead of over 20 points for Cal with over 12 minutes remaining in the game, and the Golden Bears continued getting good offensive looks while staying in their zone to cruise to a win.

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