Arizona State’s hustle, grit on full display in victory over Cal

Jan 29, 2021, 12:11 AM | Updated: Feb 2, 2021, 9:58 am

Arizona State forward Jalen Graham (24) blocks the shot of California guard Matt Bradley (20) durin...

Arizona State forward Jalen Graham (24) blocks the shot of California guard Matt Bradley (20) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State won 72-68. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State Sun Devils entered Thursday night’s matchup with the California Golden Bears desperately needing to right the wrongs of their previous six games.

After being on the wrong side of the win-loss column since early December, the Sun Devils (5-8; 2-5 Pac-12) answered the call, using hustle plays and improved team togetherness to upend the Golden Bears (7-11; 2-9) 72-68, snapping a six-game losing streak in the process.

“Just very excited that the guys had an opportunity to win,” head coach Bobby Hurley said postgame via Zoom. “We’ve been knocking on the door in several games over the last couple of weeks. Glad we were able to break through tonight.”

Wasting little time setting an aggressive tone, freshman forward Marcus Bagley scored the first points of the game thanks to an and-1.

The team would follow his lead, not settling for poor shots and working their tails off on the defensive end.

The effort and no-quit mentality from sophomores Jalen Graham and Jaelen House were especially impressive.

Putting together yet another solid effort, Graham finished with 12 points, three rebounds and two blocks. House ended the evening with six points, one rebound, an assist and a number of hustle plays — including a team-high three steals — that kept momentum on ASU’s side.

“If I could signal someone out … I thought Jaelen House was most likely the difference maker in the game,” Hurley said. “Just his energy on defense, he was flying around.

“He had nine deflections himself, which if we’re in the high 20s, low 30s as a team, that’s a pretty good stat for us. Individually he was exceptional in that department.”

It’s the second straight game that House has been a factor off the bench as the team’s sparkplug.

“I feel like I just got to be more aggressive,” House said of his recent play. “I felt like I was just out there at first, just playing timid and not trying to come out the game instead of playing my game. I feel like I’m getting back to myself right now.”

But just as it looked like the Sun Devils finally figured out how to put together a complete first half, the Golden Bears came roaring back.

Down 12 with 6:46 left in the first half, Cal strung together a 9-0 run to cut ASU’s lead to 25-22 with just over three minutes left to play.

The Golden Bears continued the late push before nabbing their first lead with just under a minute left before halftime, taking a 30-29 in the locker room.

But unlike the ASU of late, the Sun Devils rolled with the punches Thursday night.

Instead of watching Cal’s lead balloon, ASU quickly regained the lead and its momentum with back-to-back treys from Josh Christopher. The buckets marked the first makes from beyond the arc for the Sun Devils after missing their first eight attempts.

The makes acted as a springboard for the freshman, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half. He also added four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.

Once again, however, Cal would not go away quietly, withstanding the ASU onslaught before retaking the lead near the halfway point of the second half.

Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they didn’t falter in closing out the contest, draining the Golden Bears’ momentum with what worked all game; cohesiveness and hustle.

“I thought it was a pretty gritty performance,” Hurley said. “I really liked what I saw tonight. … We started the game way better than we had been starting games so was really happy about that.”

Pacing all Sun Devil scorers was senior guard Remy Martin with 19 points. He also chipped in two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

With the win, the Sun Devils have now been victorious in two of their last nine meetings.

Yes, Thursday night is a small sample size — it remains to be seen if they can now string together solid back-to-back outings — but it’s undoubtedly a positive to the team’s rocky season.

You have to start somewhere.

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