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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils looking to finish strong against Bay Area schools

While ASU demolished Cal in Berkley, they lost to Stanford in Palo Alto

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tip-off: 9 p.m. MT

Television: Fox Sports 1

ASU didn't rise to the occasion in the Rocky Mountains, falling to both Utah and Colorado. While a win over their last four games would have put them on the NCAA Tournament bubble, ASU is now playing for the best conference tournament seed they can muster (5th). They will also try to bolster their NIT resume because only a Pac-12 Tournament victory would put them in the NCAA Tournament.

Stanford is currently looming just off or on the bubble depending on the analyst. ASU could play late-night spoiler to force the Cardinal into a similar spot of having to win a few games in the Pac-12 Tournament to make it to the big dance.

ASU update 15-14 (7-9):

The Sun Devils played a fairly well-rounded game against Colorado their last time out. Shaquielle McKissic finished with 18 points, Tra Holder managed 13 and Jacobsen and Goodman each finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds. It came down to a few key plays down the stretch including a free throw miss tipped in by Colorado junior forward Josh Scott to put ASU away at the end. The Sun Devils face an extremely steep uphill battle through a gauntlet of Pac-12 opponents if they want to reach the NCAA Tournament

Stanford update 18-10 (9-7):

The Cardinal are 4-5 since beating ASU 89-70 on Jan. 25. They're coming off a close loss to Oregon on March 1st and were also swept on the Rocky Mountain road trip during that stretch. They still remain a potent offensive club with senior guard Chasson Randle averaging 19.4 points per game. Anthony Brown, a 6-foot-6 forward is also averaging 15.2 points per contest followed by senior 6-foot-11 center Stefan Nastic at 13.6 points per game. Where the Cardinal continue to be at fault is similar to the 2014 ASU squad. They've got three solid senior players but then the talent takes a significant drop off with junior Roscoe Allen, freshman Reid Travis and sophomore Marcus Allen.

Keys to victory

1. Play the spoiler card

ASU should take its role as a possible spoiler to Stanford's bubble chances seriously. Few things can be as motivating as ruining a better team's year. Any team that has an underdog mindset and plays into it can be extremely dangerous around tournament time. If ASU can rally around the seniors and their ability to send Stanford's tournament hopes packing, they might be able to play a more aggressive brand of basketball.

2. Situational awareness

The Sun Devils now enjoy playing a brutally fast pace on the court. Herb Sendek likes to have a shot up in under 12 seconds, but that doesn't mean ASU has to take it in less than five seconds. Part of the problem at Utah seemed to be that the Sun Devils didn't know when they should pull it out and work a couple passes before a shot. It caused a lot of turnovers as ASU got caught up in their own pace and didn't seem to know the difference between rushed, hurried, and playing fast but smart basketball. This improved tremendously against Colorado where Gerry Blakes and Holder made the "extra pass" numerous times which resulted in better open shots.

3. Rebounding

Yes, the free throw rebounding at the end against Colorado cost the Sun Devils, but Stanford is much more controlled and has four players in Brown, Nastic, Allen and Travis which almost all average over five boards per game (Allen 4.8). ASU has shown promise in the past against better rebounding opponents. The prime example of this was against UCLA when they beat the Bruins hard on the offensive glass and came away with a victory. They'll need to find that grit and toughness again Thursday night against Stanford.

Prediction: Stanford- 75 ASU- 67