Friday’s matchup between the No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils (7-0) and St. John's Red Storm (8-1) may be at a neutral site, but it’ll feel like home for senior Tra Holder.
The Brentwood School graduate and Los Angeles, California native will play at the Staples Center for the first time in his career.
Averaging 22.1 points per game, the 6-1, 180-pound point guard leads the Pac-12 in scoring. Holder was raised in an era where the Los Angeles Lakers won five NBA championships in 11 seasons. However, he grew up watching a different team in the same venue.
“I’ve been to a lot of Clippers games growing up,” Holder said. “Seeing Chris Paul, he was one of my favorite players. Seeing my fam there will be pretty cool.”
It also will be the first and last time Holder plays in the City of Angels in the regular season. The Sun Devils don’t make the trip to UCLA or USC this season.
But it won’t be a game off.
The Red Storm have lost just once to the Missouri Tigers and hold quality wins over the UCF Knights and Nebraska Cornhuskers. Most recently, they own a 68-60 defeat over the Grand Canyon Antelopes.
Led by sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds, him and Holder will be face-to-face on Friday night.
Just like Holder, Ponds leads his team in scoring, assists and steals, averaging 20.2 and 4.9 and 2.1 per game, respectively. Through watching Ponds, Holder said their playing styles relate because each coach allows them to play and make decisions freely.
The two are so similar they might even be related.
“Supposedly, he’s like my cousin through marriage or something crazy like that,” Holder said. “Last year, before I knew this, my dad told me I’ve got family from New York. I don’t know if he knows that. I could not even be true but... My Dad’s sister’s marriage. I don’t know. It’s crazy.”
Related or not, Ponds will be Arizona State’s No. 1 target defensively.
Along with sophomore Marcus LoVett (14.9 points per game), senior Bashir Ahmed (11.2 ppg) and sophomore Arizona transfer Justin Simon (10.6 ppg, 8.3 rebounds per game) the Red Storm’s perimeter may be ASU’s hardest matchup to defend so far.
LoVett; however, missed the last two games due to injury and did not travel with the team to Arizona, but may be back against ASU on Friday.
To prepare for their perimeter, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley went unorthodox in Wednesday’s practice.
“I’m very impressed with the effort and the energy they have on defense,” Hurley said. “We had some situations today where we put a sixth defender out on the court just to run around and try and trap and make it a little more chaotic because they scramble very well on defense. They rotate very well and have great athletes.”
On the defensive end, St. John’s ranks No. 11 in the nation, averaging over six blocks per game and have suffocated opponents to just a 62.1-point average.
Sophomore forward Tariq Owens has 12 blocks in his last three games and has achieved 30 on the season, which is fourth-most in the country.
“I know they’re a very good shot blocking team,” Holder said. “So we’ve got to be smart driving to the basket. Play like we play to our strengths and move the ball and shoot open threes and we’ll be fine.”
The Sun Devils and Red Storm meet at 6 p.m. MT on Friday on Pac-12 Network.