Ruslan Pateev throws down an emphatic dunk in the first half of the Arizona State win. - USA TODAY Sports
Though Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix receive most of the attention for the Sun Devils, it was a pair of unlikely sources that helped lead Arizona State past Cal.
The 7-foot-2 Pateev drew rousing applause from adoring fans throughout a stellar performance that infused the Sun Devils with energy. Coach Herb Sendek knows it's not easy for Pateev to come off the bench, and he spoke highly of the senior.
"To see him (Pateev) have these kinds of contributions down the home stretch of his senior year is about as good as it gets for a coach," Sendek said.
Despite the discouraging loss to Washington on Saturday, the Sun Devils found their groove early in the win over California on Thursday night. Buffered by a 12-0 run that spanned five minutes in the first half, Arizona State jumped out to a 37-27 lead by the break.
Typically, Carson and Felix dominate the scoring column and provide the lift for the Arizona State offense. On Thursday, it was a different story as Pateev and shooting guard Evan Gordon (23 points) who commanded the attention of the Golden Bears' defense.
The sharpshooting Gordon tallied 13 first half points including two three-pointers and opened the second half with another long-range bomb.
As for Pateev, a burst of hustle led to his highest point total of the season and inspired his teammates throughout the win. Though Pateev isn't known for his style and flair, his timely rebounding helped the Sun Devils build a comfortable cushion.
"I just follow the ball and try to look for the open spot. When there's a guard going to the rim, there's a chance he's going to miss. As a big, I have to go for offensive rebounds," Pateev said.
In the second half, the Sun Devils maintained a lead of at least 10-points until Cal's Allen Crabbe (16 points) narrowed the Golden Bears' deficit to nine on a free throw with just over 13 minutes left in the game.
With the Golden Bears fighting back, freshman point guard Jahii Carson exercised the second gear the Sun Devils have come to rely on during Pac-12 play. Carson averages 11.3 points in the second half, and he responded to Crabbe's free throw by hitting a driving layup and drawing a foul.
Carson continued to own the second half as he racked up 12 points and made a number of impressive dishes that led to quality opportunities.
Unfortunately for Arizona State, the Golden Bears would not go away and continued to press the Sun Devil defense. Guard Tyrone Wallace led Cal with 13 second half points and his consistent effort frustrated Coach Sendek and the Sun Devils until the end.
"I thought we were a little bit like somebody who is forced to drive stick shift, but never had a real good lesson. We got caught in between," Sendek said.
The Sun Devils lost focus over the final 10 minutes, as Cal trimmed a 15-point deficit to just two points when guard Justin Cobbs sank a three-pointer with 22 seconds remaining.
The Sun Devils secured a number of important rebounds in the closing minutes including an offensive board from Bo Barnes with 2:49 remaining that allowed them to run an additional 35 seconds off the shot clock.
The rebounds proved critical as the Sun Devils fended off the Golden Bears despite not scoring from the 4:41 mark until Evan Gordon hit two free throws with 33 seconds left.
Finally, with 4.5 seconds remaining, Jonathan Gilling sealed the deal by hitting a free throw to give the Sun Devils a four-point lead that iced the game.
Even though the Sun Devils committed 17 turnovers and their two superstars finished well below their season average in points, the maroon and gold still found a way to defeat a rugged Cal squad.
The win improves the Sun Devils to 18-5 overall, and 14-2 at home. Arizona State returns to action on Saturday night with a matchup against the Stanford Cardinal at 5:30 p.m. and Gordon knows it's another must-win.
"We all understand how hard it is to get a win on the road. The home games should definitely be an automatic. Our coach emphasizes that we can't lose at home cause the road games are so hard."