Sun Devil point guard Jahii Carson didn't let the spotlight of a rivalry game get in his way on Saturday afternoon, as he did everything in his power to lift Arizona State against the Wildcats. Unfortunately, Carson's superior talent could not carry the maroon and gold to victory as they fell in a disappointing 71-54 loss.
With sixth man Chris Colvin suspended for the rivalry contest, Carson and shooting guard Evan Gordon knew they would have to shoulder the load if the Sun Devils were going to upset the seventh ranked team in the country. The dynamic duo combined for 38 points (Carson had 22) on 13-24 shooting, but the lack of another scoring presence hampered the Sun Devils all afternoon.
Despite trailing by only three points at halftime, the Sun Devil offense stalled through most of the first half as Carrick Felix, Jonathan Gilling, and Jordan Bachynski combined to score just a single point prior to the break.
Coach Herb Sendek has dealt with a lack of depth all season, but he attributed some of the offensive difficulties to a rough outing from Carrick Felix. Sendek speaks highly of the senior leader, and he knows an off day for the forward can play a role in the outcome of the game.
"We depend so heavily on Carrick and he's been having a sensational senior year. For us to absorb that kind of game from Carrick is a lot to ask of our team right now because we depend on him in so many ways," Sendek said.
The three frontcourt players for the Sun Devils struggled mightily, and much of the credit goes to Coach Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats who devised a scheme that forced the Sun Devils to beat them from the outside.
The Wildcats rotated five different players to curtail the Sun Devil posts, and Felix scored just five points while committing seven turnovers in a frustrating performance. Felix's primary defender was Wildcat forward Solomon Hill, who notched 13 points and six rebounds in a stellar effort.
"I just can't say enough about Solomon," Coach Sendek said. "I think he is one of the most underrated players in the country."
On the other side of the floor, the Wildcats went as their guards did and Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson had their way against the Sun Devil defense. Lyons and Johnson used dribble penetration to beat their defenders and contributed 43 points to the winning effort.
Each time the Sun Devils appeared to have an answer for the Wildcats, Arizona seemed to devise a new way to take control of the game.
When Felix pulled Arizona State within two points with less than 11 minutes remaining, Nick Johnson simply cut through the Sun Devil defense and drew a shooting foul. When the Sun Devils trailed by just four points a few minutes later, Solomon Hill knocked down a dagger of a three-pointer that deflated the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena.
The final straw came with just 9:50 remaining in the second half, when Jahii Carson picked up his fourth personal foul. Carson left the game with the Sun Devils trailing 46-44, and the Wildcats pulled away as Lyons and Johnson feasted on an uncomfortable defense.
"With me being in foul trouble, it puts my teammates in awkward positions...I think it had a huge swing," Carson said.
After Carson went to the bench, Arizona finished the game on a 25-10 run that helped remind everyone of the team's impressive ability to put away close games.
Ultimately, the Sun Devils struggled because of their inability to take care of the basketball. Coach Sendek noted that the 17 turnovers that Arizona State committed played a major role in the losing effort.
"17 turnovers in a game like this is just far too many, and that was a significant factor in the game," Sendek said.
With the loss, the Sun Devils fall to 14-4 on the season and 3-2 in Pac-12 conference play. Arizona State returns to action on Thursday night in Tempe against the USC Trojans at 8:30 p.m.