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No. 11 ASU bothered by Oregon’s athleticism, slow pace in upset loss

Oregon forward M.J. Cage (4) battles with Arizona State forward De'Quon Lake (35) for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — “Guard U” has some of the best guards in the country, but the No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils do not have overwhelming size or athleticism with those guards and limited amounts of it elsewhere.

Oregon has that at every position, and that plus a slow pace was what swung the game in favor of the Ducks in a 76-72 upset loss for the Sun Devils on Thursday.

The Ducks’ quickness, length and bounce shined through with how they stuck around in a game they only led for less than 90 seconds of the first half.

For the most part, they played strong perimeter defense in a zone that kept the pace slow while constantly having success using dribble penetration on the other end.

“Teams are slowing the game down and not letting us play at our speed anymore so we gotta figure out ways to get stops,” ASU senior guard Kodi Justice said.

That zone frustrated the Sun Devils offensively, who had seven of their 11 turnovers in the second half. On most possessions, they were struggling to get a clean look and create space, unlike the Ducks, who got it nearly whenever they wanted.

“I probably have some responsibility for that because I just didn’t quite maybe manage possessions better with the lead and try and go a little bit longer with a possession and move the ball a little bit more,” head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game.

Arizona State wasn’t able to take advantage of a big crowd of 13,693 at Wells Fargo Arena, the largest attendance number it’s had since 2010.

Despite Oregon’s poor 3-point shooting (26 percent) and ASU getting to the free-throw line (31 attempts), the Ducks were able to be either be in control or keep the deficit close for the entirety of the game.

Justice was the only guard to be efficient. He was 6-of-12 with four 3-pointers for 21 points. Seniors Shannon Evans II and Tra Holder, meanwhile, combined to shoot 8-for-23 from the field.

The most surprising run of the game was the end of the first half when the Sun Devils lost the handle they had on the game.

A 14-2 run by Oregon in less than 2:30 had the game tied at 41 by the end of the first 20 minutes despite the aforementioned lack of time leading for the Ducks.

“Thought we had opportunities in the first half two different times to really take hold of the game,” Hurley said. “We allowed them to get back.”

Known for second-half explosions, the Sun Devils had only 31 points in the 20 minutes that the Ducks mostly handled.

On offense, particularly in that closing half, Oregon had a very simple formula: Get dribble penetration, see where the defense rotates, pass to who is open, shoot — or work hard for offensive rebounds.

This sounds easy, but it’s usually not because of the speed that defenses can recover. ASU, however, lacks the required crisp rotations and the Ducks kept punishing them for it.

That came through Oregon’s guards, sophomore Payton Pritchard and junior Elijah Brown, who had 18 points apiece while the floor general Pritchard added six assists.

The drive-and-kick resulted in a lot of open 3-pointers. Oregon only made eight of its 31 attempts, but those eight and 14 offensive rebounds were the decisive aspects of their win.

When asked of where the game got away, Justice answered with the backboard.

“They grinded us up on defense,” he said.

“It was all of it, honestly. I couldn’t put one thing on it,” Justice said of the rebounding.

“If we get those rebounds, we have a chance to push,” Hurley said of the offensive rebounds for Oregon contributing to the lack of transition looks for his team.

All those ASU free throws that kept them in the game came from Oregon fouls, which caused the Ducks to miss important players throughout certain portions of the game.

Freshman wing Troy Brown, a potential first-round pick, had two fouls in less than three minutes. Freshman big Kenny Wooten, a terrific shot blocker and springy athlete who once was committed to ASU, picked up his third foul with 6:36 remaining in the first half. The two combined to play 14 minutes in the opening half and Wooten only played 11 total minutes.

The Sun Devils had 13 total rebounds at the half and Oregon had 10 alone on the offensive glass, good for a total of 20.

Oregon’s senior forward Mikyle McIntosh is only 6-foot-7, making him shorter than the bigs for ASU, but his 240-pound frame was a problem for the lighter and younger ASU frontline. He had 13 rebounds, five on the offensive glass, and 12 points.

“He used his physicality, he just crashed,” Hurley said.

The Sun Devils don’t have an answer physically for players like McIntosh, who kept Oregon in a game that it, quite frankly, didn’t deserve to be in with some of its sloppy plays early on.

For the most part, the Ducks eliminated the clumsiness in the second half and used that drive-and-kick over and over with a strong defensive effort to eventually pull away.

“They did a nice job of tempoing the game and make it a real possession game,” Hurley said. “It was choppy. We never really got into a great rhythm on offense.”

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