ASU hoops: Where’s the grit?

Jan 23, 2012, 5:39 PM | Updated: 9:17 pm

Quick…somebody name the last good thing that happened to
Arizona State athletics?

You’d probably have to go back to the football team’s easy
Homecoming win over Colorado on October 29th. Since then,
it’s been a steady stream of yuck on both the gridiron and
the hardwood. Suspensions, firings,
embarrassing losses and negative publicity have defined
ASU football and men’s basketball since.

And it’s never been uglier on the basketball floor for
Arizona State than it is right now for Herb Sendek and
company. Don’t believe me? Just ask the players. Junior
forward Carrick Felix was asked about whether or not ASU’s
ugly 64-43 loss to a bad Utah team on Saturday was indeed
rock bottom for the program.

“If this is not, I don’t know what is,” Felix said.

Unfortunately, Felix is right. On their most recent road
trip, ASU simply didn’t compete in either game. Their
best player, Trent Lockett, missed both contests with an
ankle injury, but that shouldn’t be an excuse.

Thursday night in Boulder, the Sun Devils were embarrassed
by a decent Colorado team, 69-54 in a game that wasn’t
nearly as close as the score would indicate. ASU never
led, and trailed by as many as 25 points in the game.
Only a 11-1 run over the last 1:46 by ASU’s reserves,
including walk-ons Max Heller, Pierre Newton and Dave
Whitmore made the box score look more respectable.

Things got so bad, that head coach Herb Sendek got the
heave-ho with 4:12 left to go in the game. If only he
knew Saturday would be worse, he probably would’ve endured
those last few painful minutes in Boulder.

Utah absolutely trounced ASU 64-43 in Salt Lake City –
another game that the Sun Devils never led. In fact, the
Utes got off to a quick 12-0 lead and never looked back,
leading by as many as 28 points. And this came against a
team with a first-year head coach that had just booted
their leading scorer (Josh Watkins) off the team. The
Utes were 4-14, with one of those wins coming against San
Diego Christian and two others against Idaho State and
Portland, ranked 291 and 275th in the current Sagarin
Ratings, respectively. In other words, Utah has been one
of the worst teams in the country this season.

Utah’s 14 losses this season have come by an average
margin of 22 points. Fresno State beat them by 30, Cal
State Fullerton by 31, Cal by 36 and Colorado tuned them
by 40. Utah had not held a lead of more than 17 points
all season long, yet they once had a 28-point bulge in a
wire-to-wire thrashing of ASU.

Inevitably, the comparisons to Sendek’s first ASU team,
the 2006-07 squad, will surface. That team finished 8-22
and a woeful 2-16 in conference play. But that was
expected. There were a lot of new faces in the program
that year other than Sendek’s. But they competed
every night, scratching and clawing to stay in games with
defense and scrappy offensive play. Those Sun Devils
never gave up – after starting the conference season 0-14,
they won 2 out of their last 4 conference games when there
was only pride to play for.

This year’s Sun Devil team just doesn’t display the same
determination. I’m not saying this year’s ASU hoops team
trying. But there have been many comments from Sendek
himself that indicate that his team isn’t competing at an
acceptable level.

Maybe a string of heart-wrenching losses to NAU, Fresno
State and Southern Mississippi in the non-conference
portion of their schedule took their toll. Maybe the
increased minutes for the starters in the wake of Keala
King’s dismissal is wearing this roster down.

Sendek, to his credit, didn’t lean on any of those reasons
after Saturday’s debacle in Utah.

“We could throw out excuses but we are not prepared to do
that,” he said.

Sendek has his work cut out for him with 11 conference
games remaining. Lockett will return, but there isn’t an
influx of talent walking through the Sun Devil locker room
door until next season. The Sun Devils will have to rely
on grit, hard work and determination to have any chance to
remain competitive the rest of the season.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of those ingredients
thus far.

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ASU hoops: Where’s the grit?