Arizona State dominates California to win 6th in last 7 games

Mar 3, 2022, 9:58 PM | Updated: Mar 4, 2022, 7:13 am

Arizona State guard Marreon Jackson and guard Luther Muhammad (1) celebrate a three pointer against...

Arizona State guard Marreon Jackson and guard Luther Muhammad (1) celebrate a three pointer against California during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, March 3, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE — On Feb. 10, the Sun Devils men’s basketball team sat at the bottom of the Pac-12 with a 2-10 conference record and a 7-15 overall record. Almost a month later, Arizona State has flipped the switch.

Thursday night’s 71-44 victory over the California Golden Bears at Desert Financial Arena was ASU’s sixth win over the past seven games. After losing 74-50 back in Berkeley on Jan. 2, the Sun Devils had one thing in mind.

“Protect our house,” Arizona State forward Alonzo Gaffney said following the win. “They were not coming in here and getting anything easy. … We had to get that loss off our chest.”

Not only did the Sun Devils avenge the loss, but ASU also put up the highest score differential since opening night with a 27-point victory.

“It’s a good feeling — way better than losing,” Arizona State forward Kimani Lawrence said. “I’m just happy we found something that’s working for us, we’ve got a rhythm. It’s just something to build off going into the tournament.”

The blowout win was just a glimpse at what the Sun Devils have been able to accomplish in the recent turnaround. Over the past seven games, opponents have scored 57.3 points per game against ASU, just under 10 points fewer than the season average of 66.7.

“We’re making in-game adjustments and we’re definitely more vocal,” Lawrence said. “On rotations, we switch without really having to say we’re switching. Everything is just clicking. We’re playing as one.”

The Golden Bears shot 31% from the field, 5-of-26 from three-point range and turned the ball over 13 times. It was the first time all season the Sun Devils held an opponent to fewer than 50 points, not letting up until the final whistle.

“At this time of year, we know we can’t afford to just chill over the last three or four minutes,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “We have to get into the right mindset of playing for the whole 40 minutes.”

While the defense has gradually improved throughout the season, the offense has been the focus for Hurley and the Sun Devils.

The performance for Arizona State was one of the best all year, shooting 54% from the field and 38% from three. Four of the five starters for the Sun Devils reached double-digits in points, with guard D.J. Horne leading the way with 13 points.

With the strong defense also came a great amount of offense in transition. ASU outscored California 27-2 on fastbreak points and 16-2 on points off turnovers.

“That was our best offense, especially in the first half,” Hurley said. “Once we got the lead to 16, 18, 20 — just their style of how they play — it makes more difficult for them to get back into the game.”

The Pac-12 Tournament begins shortly after ASU’s final regular-season game against Stanford at Desert Financial Arena on Saturday, but the Sun Devils believe they are coming together at the right moment.

“We’ve still got a lot to play for. These games mean something, especially with seeding when it comes to tournament time,” Lawrence said. “We knew how important these last two games are for us to give us the best chance to compete in the tournament.”

Even with the rough stretch of games in the middle of the season, Arizona State will have a chance to carry the winning into the postseason and compete for a conference title, keeping the mindset of winning one game at a time.

“We’ll just see how it shakes out this week,” Hurley said. “I just focus on our team and how we’re playing and getting them ready to play. We’ll just see what happens.”

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