Arizona State gets another shot at toppling Oregon
This season, no other Oregon opponent came as close as Arizona State did in attempting to upset the Ducks on their home court.
The Sun Devils hope playing at a neutral Pac-12 Tournament court Thursday tips their second matchup with the Ducks in their favor.
ASU needed overtime to beat Stanford on Wednesday, earning just a third conference tournament win in the past 16 seasons.
Despite potentially tired legs and unfavorable history in the tournament, the Sun Devils have confidence against the Pac-12’s No. 1-seeded team. That 71-70 loss at Matthew Knight Arena back on Feb. 2 is enough for ASU to believe it can shock the college basketball world and play disruptor in the Ducks’ chase for a favorable NCAA Tournament seeding.
“I think we played hard, and just at the end of the game we just lost the momentum because (Oregon’s Dillon) Brooks took over the game,” forward Obinna Oleka said at his Las Vegas press conference on Wednesday. “But other than that, they’re beatable.”
For a game, Arizona State proved that true despite relying on a five- and sometimes six-man rotation.
Head coach Bobby Hurley’s team held Oregon to 44 percent shooting in their only meeting this year — take away Brooks and the rest of the Ducks shot just 37 percent.
But taking away Brooks, of course, is no easy task. Oregon’s leader has two buzzer-beating shots on the year, and that doesn’t include his go-ahead bucket in ASU’s loss in Eugene, Ore. He scored 27 points to go with six rebounds and four assists against the Sun Devils.
There’s reason for optimism on ASU’s end, however. Oregon’s perimeter defenders couldn’t contain the speedy scoring duo of Shannon Evans and Tra Holder in their first matchup. The backcourt combined to hit 16-of-26 from the floor (62 percent).
Oleka and Kodi Justice, the two hottest Sun Devils of late, combined for just 10 points in that game.
On Wednesday against Stanford, it was Oleka who had 27 points and 13 boards. His energy might go toward battling Oregon bigs Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher, but against the Cardinal he proved productive on offense despite expending energy containing bigger opponents on the glass.
“Obi’s a match-up nightmare, too, by the way,” Hurley said. “Obi is a match-up nightmare for people because of the mobility and his quickness and the physicality. So the combination of size and quickness and ability to go away from the baskets, just all the things that he brings, gives us great confidence too.”
Ninety-six of ASU’s 98 points against the Cardinal came from the starting lineup of Oleka, Holder, Evans, Justice and Torian Graham, and Hurley liked what he saw offensively — a lot of scoring off dribble-penetration.
ASU, which has played low-turnover basketball of late, hit 10-of-22 threes and shot 56 percent against Stanford. More importantly, the driving got the Sun Devils to the foul stripe 25 times.
The Sun Devils just want to harness that synergy between their five starters into Thursday.
The end to ASU’s season is near, win or lose.
Arguably, Oregon has more to lose.
“They’re very good with mixing their defenses up,” Hurley said of the Ducks. “We have to — we’ve got to be able to score. I think that’s my biggest takeaway from our performance today was just the bounceback effect from 60 points against Arizona to getting back to how we’re capable of attacking and making plays at the offensive end.”
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