Coming off two losses last week and five consecutive dating back to the middle of January, ASU head coach Herb Sendek has learned to celebrate the small victories with his young team.
Whether it is through addressing individual performances or areas of improvement, Arizona State (9-12, 1-8 Pac 10) is discovering that the moral victories are going to be what fuels them through the rest of the season, no matter the results.
“You could look at the bottom line, the record, and the struggles we have, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to break it down and analyze the why,” Sendek said on Sports 620 KTAR’s Doug and Wolf Tuesday morning. “We’re really cautious of celebrating small victories and we’re very cautious of being positive.”
Against USC (12-10, 4-5) last Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena, the Sun Devils managed to get up early and keep the game close until the end. Poor free throw shooting and lack of an inside presence turned out to be the difference in a 63-61 loss.
The opposite was true when Arizona State faced UCLA (14-7, 6-3) on Saturday when the Devils ame out with a lackluster attack on offense, but fought back from a 15-point deficit behind Jamelle McMillan’s 13 second-half points. After narrowly forcing overtime, the Sun Devils allowed a 9-2 run to start the extra five minutes and lost 73-72.
“Certainly, having Jamelle play like he did in the second half against UCLA is really important,” Sendek said, “and one of the small victories that we didn’t recognize yesterday is [that] in our losses, we’ve been extremely competitive.”
Center Jordan Bachynski is one Arizona State player who has managed to improve during the last five games, making the most of more significant playing time. Averaging 2.6 points above his season average through the slate, Bachynski is finally playing to his potential and making it count in games when it matters most.
“Here’s a young man that hasn’t played basketball in three years and, all of a sudden, he’s doing some really good things against a program like UCLA,” Sendek said. “Jordan has outstanding mobility.”
Despite injuries and illnesses throughout the season, one thing Sendek, in his fifth season at ASU, refuses to do is use those as an excuse.
“It’s almost a contradictory statement. We have to say it for obvious reasons and it’s true, it’s not an excuse and it’s still bottom line, ‘Did we win or lose?'” Sendek said.
“One of the positives that we identified yesterday with our three first-year front court guys [is that] all three now have field goal percentages above .500,” Sendek said, speaking of Trent Lockett, Kyle Cain and Bachynski. “The fact that we have three young guys now who have worked themselves into a position in the conference to all be above that .500 watershed is a reason for us to, at least in the locker room, pump our fists.”
Looking forward, Arizona State travels to the Bay Area to face California and Stanford, two teams stuck in the middle of the Pac-10 standings, later this week. For now, Sendek is counting on using the moral victories to pull out the victories, through their last nine games, that can actually boost the team’s record.