After two hard-fought losses and overcoming a nine-point deficit in each, the Sun Devils will square off at home against Washington State Thursday night at 6 p.m., looking k to right their ways in the conference after dropping their first three to start Pac-12 play.
"We mentioned that we started 0-4 in Pac-12 play last year, and we finished the fifth seed so there is no clear-cut No.1 seed in the conference right now," forward Savon Goodman said. "Obviously Arizona lost, USC loss, Utah lost, so we have a big chance to turn it around here with this next one and with the 15 more games we have left."
Washington State is coming off its own hard-fought loss to in-state rival Washington, following a win over UCLA. The Sun Devils lost their last contest to UCLA after losing the battle on the boards due to an overwhelming height disadvantage under the basket.
Now the Sun Devils turn their energy toward a fast Washington State team with one of the best forwards in the conference in junior forward Josh Hawkinson.
"I've been watching a lot of film on him, and I thought he was pretty good last year, but this year he's shooting 50 percent from the three-point line so we definitely have to key in on him and I feel like he's the head honcho of the group." Goodman said. "We need to cut him off and stop Ike (Iroegbu), who's deadly in transition.
"They like to push and won't go up and down the whole game and definitely have a chance to make a run in transition, so just stopping his penetration and stopping Hawkinson at half court is key."
Hawkinson currently leads the Pac-12 in rebounds and is averaging a double-double this season. He was a presence on the boards in ASU's last matchup against the Cougars with nine defensive rebounds, but his scoring was held at bay with only six points on that night.
This year, Hawkinson is a much clearer offensive threat while also being able to clog up the lane on defense. Goodman matched the big-bodied forward's nine boards on defense in WSU and ASU's last meeting along with adding five offensive rebounds that brought his total to 14 grabs off the glass on the night.
Now after three quiet games following Goodman's four-game absence due to personal reasons, he works to get back into a rhythm that will find him with his own double-double against a team ASU lost to by a single possession last season.
"I'm trying to do everything possible I can," Goodman said. "Taking those four games off was pretty tough, and some people don't realize how tough it is to just come back and have the same year you were having, to get in that same game shape, and have that same energy, but it's time to just get back into it and rally your team together. We're back home in front of our fans now and we just got to get back to packing the paint and making teams beat us with the jump shot."
While Coach Bobby Hurley said his team played hard and what should have been a victory against UCLA, he also knows the reality of the Pac-12 in that it is known as one of the best and most competitive conferences in the country right now and that means two weeks down the line the standings could look very different.
However he said early foul trouble, especially against ASU center Eric Jacobsen, is something that can be diminished to help this team become more consistent, a word Hurley said is one of the team's biggest focal points right now.
"We discussed keeping Eric out of foul trouble, that would really help us get his minutes up and we see how we play in such a positive way when he's out there." Hurley said. "And that would help us get some more consistency out front and I think consistency is a word that is appropriate for all of our guys right now. We need to find some common ground because we're too up and down."
Despite shooting guard Gerry Blakes' struggles from the field in the past few games, Tra Holder has been powering the backcourt with 20-plus points in his last four games. Guard Kodi Justice has also played a pivotal roll in conference play, sharing time with Holder and hitting clutch threes down the stretch.
Hurley said in leading by example, Holder might be the key in getting the consistency he speaks of to rise.
"I think we are getting quality shots and Tra's shooting a great percentage right now," Hurley said. "In league games he's over 50 percent from the field and from the three and when you get that kind of success shooting, I think other guys will follow suit and start picking it up a little more and get the balance that made us difficult to guard and gave us the success we had with wins over Texas A&M and Creighton and all those games."
However Holder doesn't credit his recent success to any new practice rituals nor a conscious change in focus or confidence.
"I've just been doing what I been doing the whole season but shots have just been starting to fall lately," Holder said. "I think that's how we play with energy is when we feed off each other"
Now the Sun Devils hope to find that frontcourt consistency they have been in search of in conference play come Thursday, as they work to muscle out their first Pac-12 win of the season.
"Playing at home, is definitely a sense of comfort, but it also ups the ante because we're in desperation mode right now," Jacobsen said. We need to win a game and you need to win at home in the Pac-12 so this one Thursday's going to be a big one for us."