March 4, 2012; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils center Jordan Bachynski (13) celebrates with the fans after defeating the Arizona Wildcats 87-80 at Wells Fargo. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE
This season has been far from ideal for the Arizona St. Sun Devils. They lost close games to out-of-conference teams early in the year. They lost Jahii Carson for academic reasons before conference play began. They dismissed Keala King, then the team's leading scorer, for disciplinary issues. They watched Trent Lockett roll his right ankle and sit out for a good chunk of the year. But now, at the end of it all, the Sun Devils have ended their season on a very positive note with an 87-80 victory over the rival Arizona Wildcats.
ASU was able to get easy baskets in the first half and find a rhythm. The team shared the ball well and generated some offense, notching eight assists while keeping pace with the Wildcats. Things looked a little precarious for ASU at the end of the half, however, when Arizona broke open a 36-36 tie with an 8-2 run to close the half.
Instead of crumbling, the Sun Devils responded with seven straight points (five from Carrick Felix during that stretch) to begin the second half and take a 45-44 lead. Both teams kept it close throughout the final 20 minutes as Kyle Fogg and Brandon Lavendar led the Wildcats across from ASU's trio of Felix, Lockett, and Jonathan Gilling.
More details from Sunday's game after the jump.
With one minute left, Gilling hit a three-pointer (one of his five three-pointers on the night) to stretch the lead to 81-77. Fogg responded with an and-one play that brought the game to within 81-80. Arizona chose to foul with 31 ticks remaining on the clock, and Lcokett took the Sun Devils home from there with four straight free throws. Felix capped off the win with the final two freebies from the line, notching an 87-80 win after Fogg failed to convert on the other end.
ASU saved its best effort for this regular season finale, posting its highest point total (87) of the year against Arizona. Felix led the charge with 23 points, while Lockett and Gilling pitched in with 21 apiece. The win deals a big blow to the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament chances.
The next step for ASU is to replicate this type of effort in the Pac-12 Tournament. Conference tournaments are won based on momentum, and the Sun Devils certainly have some following the win. Regardless of what happens, though, the team has to be proud of the way that it closed out an otherwise underwhelming 2011-12 campaign.