ASU offense trending upward as rematch with Arizona looms
TEMPE, Ariz. — With a full week off between games, the Arizona State Sun Devils looked to strike a balance between staying sharp and being physically and mentally ready for the next task at hand.
Coming off a big bounce-back win over Utah that saw the return of the team’s shooting stroke, it was imperative for ASU to build off that energy, while getting back to full strength with the No. 22 Arizona Wildcats coming to town on Saturday.
In the two teams’ last meeting down in Tucson, the Wildcats pulled away with ease, using a 36-17 advantage in the first half to help take the 75-47 win over the Sun Devils. ASU managed just two assists, was outrebounded 49-35 and had just one player finish in double digit points. All but one starting Wildcat finished in double figures, and the starters combined to dish out 10 of the team’s 17 assists.
Of the Wildcats’ big men, freshman forward Zeke Nnaji did the most damage against the Sun Devils the last go around. In 27 minutes, the forward dropped 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He’s recorded seven double-doubles this year for Arizona.
One of the main reasons for the Sun Devils’ downfall was the health of junior forward Romello White. While he logged 24 minutes of play, White was clearly not himself as he battled an ankle injury, recording just five rebounds and zero points in the loss. With the big man ailing, junior guard Remy Martin was left to pick up the scoring slack, dropping 20 points, but he ended the night with just one assist. The team was unable to facilitate another scoring threat.
But even in the short time in between games, the Sun Devils possess a different team this time around. Coming off their best shooting performance of the season — nailing 11-of-18 shots from 3-point land — ASU, has at the very least, gotten rid of the demons that plagued the offensive minds of its players. That’s especially true of senior guard Rob Edwards, who broke out of a slump in a big way, making 6 of 7 shots (5-of-6 from deep) for a season-high 24 points.
“I think Rob is playing the way he’s playing, [guard Alonzo Verge Jr.] and [forward Taeshon Cherry] are hitting shots, so for me I always have confidence no matter the ups and downs that we’ve gone through,” Martin said when asked if this was a different ASU team from the first meeting. “I’ve always stayed the course, I’ve always thought the best of my teammates because they show me they put in the work so it’s all about clicking at the right time.”
Adding even more fuel to ASU’s fire is a healthy White, who gives the team a big boost down low and in the rebounding department. This season, White’s notched six double-doubles for ASU. In 12 of his 17 games played this season, White’s had at least nine rebounds.
“I know it’s going to be a battle in there and I’m excited that Romello is at full strength,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Hopefully he’ll be who he normally is, but it’s a collective thing. They have great size around the basket and a lot of talent.”
And with White back in the fold at 100%, that leaves Martin with a golden opportunity to continue his strong play against the in-state rival.
“He’s shown he’s not afraid of big games, and it’s not only this game, but this game is an important game for us and our season,” Hurley said. “He’s demonstrated numerous times in high-tier, high-level games, big-time opponents that he’s usually ready to play and having an impact on winning.”
Martin has seen some of his best moments come against the Wildcats, averaging 19.8 points per game, while shooting 43.5% from long range. Martin has scored a total of 99 points against Arizona, the most against any team he’s faced in three years.
The stats are solid, but the most important to Martin is the next one.
“Honestly to me, this means everything to me, like something I want to look back on and know that we gave it our all but also know that we came out with the win,” Martin said. “This means the world to me, this is a rivalry that’s been going on for a long time and I’m just trying to keep the legacy going for ASU.”
The Sun Devils and Wildcats tip off Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Catch all the action live on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
— ASU freshman guard Jaelen House is a game-time decision for Saturday’s tilt. Hurley said the guard will play “but he still has a few hurdles to get through.” House has been in concussion protocol and missed the team’s last game against Utah.