Loss to Washington State highlights Sun Devils’ struggles on defense

Jan 29, 2017, 3:36 PM | Updated: 4:57 pm
Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) walks to the bench during a time out as Washington State celebra...
Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) walks to the bench during a time out as Washington State celebrates during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona State Sun Devils have had issues defensively all season, and Sunday’s 91-83 loss to the Washington State Cougars was no exception.

Their 83.7 points per game allowed could feasibly be explained by their up-tempo style, but a closer look confirms that the Sun Devils field the worst defense in the Pac-12.

ASU ranks last in the Pac-12 by allowing opposing teams to shoot 48.5 percent, which is 3.1 percent higher than their opponents shoot overall. The second-worst team in the conference, Washington, is allowing a 45.4 shooting percentage.

The Cougars shot 52.6 percent both from the field and behind the three-point line against the Sun Devils on Sunday.

The one bright spot to Arizona State’s defense is the players’ abilities to force turnovers. The Sun Devils rank third in the Pac-12 in turnovers forced per game at 13.5.

A major issue that doesn’t allow ASU’s defense to translate these turnovers into better overall defense is their lack of size, as senior forward Obinna Oleka (who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds Sunday) is the only player 6-foot-7 or taller who plays more than 13 minutes per game.

This was clear against Washington State, as 6-foot-10 senior forward Josh Hawkinson pounded the Devils inside and nailed shots from the perimeter Sunday, finishing with a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds. This isn’t the first time a big man set a career high against the Devils this season, as 6-foot-9 Utah junior Kyle Kuzma put up 26 points on Jan. 7 and 7-foot Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen scored 30 points on Jan. 12.

Not only does Arizona State have trouble against skilled big men, but their lack of size leads to issues on the boards, as they rank second-to-last in the Pac-12 with a minus-3.5 average rebound differential and last with 24.5 defensive rebounds per game. They collected 24 defensive rebounds against the Cougars.

While Oleka does his job as the big man of the team, leading the Pac-12 with 10.6 rebounds per game, the rest of the Devils aren’t exactly cleaning the glass. Of the players who have played at least half of ASU’s games, senior guard Torian Graham is second on the team, averaging 4.2 boards per game.

Their relative lack of size makes it difficult for the Sun Devils to both stop big men from feasting down low and close out possessions defensively with a rebound.

This is a major reason why ASU lost against WSU despite a career-high 27 points from junior guard Tra Holder, as well as 19 from Graham and 15 from both Oleka and junior guard Shannon Evans.

Make no mistake, the reason the Sun Devils find themselves sitting at 10-12 despite averaging 81.7 points per game is their major flaws defensively.

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Loss to Washington State highlights Sun Devils’ struggles on defense