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ASU Basketball vs. Cal: Complete Game Preview

At 17-5, the Sun Devils need a weekend sweep of the Northern California schools to remain in contention for a bid to the NCAA Tournament come March.

The last few weeks of the season will be a roller coaster ride for Coach Herb Sendek
The last few weeks of the season will be a roller coaster ride for Coach Herb Sendek
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

With 61 seconds remaining against Washington, sophomore Jonathan Gilling rose up to shoot. The forward was having a career night from beyond the arc, and his clutch three-point attempt sank through the nylon like a dagger in the heart of the Huskies.

After holding a 16-point advantage in the second half, Washington was thoroughly outplayed over the final 15 minutes by the Sun Devils. Behind a 32-point performance from Jahii Carson and perimeter shooting from Jonathan Gilling, the maroon and gold clawed all the way back to tie the game at 89.

Unfortunately, that's when the magic ran out.

Husky center Aziz N'Diaye continued his domination in the paint and muscled his way in for a basket on the next position. As N'Diaye went up for his shot, Jordan Bachynski committed a foul that sent N'Diaye to the line to convert a three-point play.

The Sun Devils would have their opportunities, but they failed to execute on game-tying chances in the final minute. Carrick Felix had a three-point attempt miss the mark, and Jahii Carson's driving layup with less than 10 seconds to play was the team's final hope. Washington buckled down on Carson for the final few seconds, and the Huskies escaped.

Though Arizona State fans were disappointed to see their Sun Devils fall behind by such a large margin, the fight and character this team displayed in the second half was inspiring.

Led by a super freshman that can score at will, the Sun Devils can win on any given night. Right now, they have to.

At 17-5, the Sun Devils face a slate of must-win games over the next few weeks if they want to keep their tourney hopes alive. On Thursday, the maroon and gold host the California Golden Bears, another team capable of ruining dreams of March Madness.

A win is expected, a loss could hurt, but that's just old-fashioned Pac-12 basketball.

State of the Sun Devils: Arizona State relies evermore on freshman point guard Jahii Carson. The point guard made waves for recording 20-point games early on in Pac-12 play, but he's shown over the past two games that he only needs a half to score that many points.

When the Sun Devils traveled to Pullman, Carson saved the Sun Devils from a devastating collapse by pouring in 21 second half points en route to a 63-59 win over Washington State. On Saturday, Carson's heroics fell just short as his 22-point second half helped spark a huge comeback before the Sun Devils fell to the Huskies.

The Sun Devils go as Carson goes, and right now, not a single player in the Pac-12 is playing at his level.

An encouraging sign from the weekend road trip was another solid outing by Jonathan Gilling, who recorded 22 points on 8-10 shooting. The glue guy has been all about rebounds and defense this season, but his jump shot can make or break the outcome of a game.

The Sun Devils must sweep the Northern California schools this weekend if they want to remain projected for an NCAA tournament bid. As of now, the Sun Devils look like a likely candidate, but one or two slip ups can spell doom for teams that play weak nonconference schedules.

State of the Golden Bears: Mike Montgomery's squad is one of the hardest teams to read in the Pac-12.

The Golden Bears have one of the most potent backcourt combinations in the conference with Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, but the team does not own a marquee victory this season.

At 13-8, Cal has been exceptionally mediocre, even though this team has the potential to give the conference leaders a run for their money each game. The Golden Bears are 5-4 in conference, but they showed signs of picking up steam with a sweep of the Oregon schools over the weekend.

After beating the Beavers on Wednesday night, the Golden Bears hosted a depleted Oregon Ducks team that was missing standout freshman Dominic Artis. Nevertheless, the two schools battled it out to the end, and all five of Cal's starters scored at least eight points in the victory.

While the Golden Bears rely mostly on Crabbe (19.4 PPG) and Cobbs (14.3 PPG) for their scoring, eight different players average at least 17 minutes per game. This stat is a far cry from the Sun Devils, who ask four starters to play more than 30 minutes per game.

Did the win over Oregon finally break Cal of mediocrity? Or is Cal destined to finish the season around .500? Thursday night's test in Tempe will provide a good barometer for what to expect from the Golden Bears the rest of the season.

Matchup to Watch: Justin Cobbs vs. Jahii Carson

The all-JC matchup at the point guard position should be another entertaining battle for the fans in Tempe. Cobbs is not a sensational point guard by any means, but his consistent play is crucial to the success of the Golden Bears.

Though Cobbs does not score like Jahii Carson does, the junior floor general has the veteran leadership the Golden Bears will need to escape Tempe with a win.

As for Carson, everyone in the building knows he's playing phenomenal basketball. The crowd shows up for Carson, but he needs to keep his team in check. The second half is typically his time to shine, and he'll need to maintain his high energy to lead the Sun Devils to victory.