The Arizona State Sun Devils rode their worst shooting performance of the season and a tumultuous defensive showing in the second half en route to a 68-43 defeat to the California Golden Bears at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night.
As has often been the case this season, the Sun Devils (11-14, 4-8 Pac-12) struggled to get their offense moving early on. The Maroon and Gold opened 2-for-10 from the floor in the first few minutes, and multiple poor possessions were bailed out by Shannon Evans II driving into the paint.
The Devils also struggled to defend the post early on as Cal forward Ivan Rabb grabbed seven rebounds in his 18 first-half minutes, which led to plenty of open looks on the perimeter for the Bears who finished shooting 40 percent from 3 at the half.
Cal seemed the much more talented team early on, but 11 first-half turnovers hindered their ability to develop an early lead. At the 7:42 mark in the first half the Sun Devils tallied eight straight points on turnovers and were able to keep the game close at 14-13.
“I thought our defense was solid in the first half,” said ASU head coach Bobby Hurley, “we did everything we could at that end, we created 11 turnovers.”
However, the Bears would settle down in the final minutes of the first half as Rabb swatted ASU forward Obinna Oleka and guard Tra Holder on the defensive end and opened looks for the Bears’ guards beyond the arc.
In the first half, the Bears gave 40 minutes to players 6-foot-7 or taller, while the Devils mustered just 26.
Much like in the game against Washington State last weekend, Hurley did everything he could to counter the Sun Devils’ lack of depth down low by rotating freshman forward Ramon Vila and Oleka at the five. Freshman Jethro Tshiumpa’s lack of development this season didn’t help either, as he didn’t see the floor Wednesday night.
“Credit Cal. Their length, and their zone, and their size bothered us right out of the gate,” Hurley said.
This size advantage proved devastating for ASU as Cal closed the first half on an 11-0 run.
The halftime break didn’t do any favors for the Sun Devils as they ended up on the wrong side of a 20-point differential midway through the second stanza.
A couple of Kodi Justice triples and an appearance from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s” Charlie Day in the Curtain of Distraction kept the Wells Fargo Arena crowd somewhat-entertained, but ultimately is was an uneventful 20 minutes on both sides of the floor for the ASU basketball team.
“This time around they zoned us the entire time,” Justice added after the game, “we couldn’t figure out how to break it.”
By the 7:09 mark, the Devils’ shooting percentage plummeted to 25 percent, and Hurley’s bunch were sitting at 3-for-21 from beyond the arc.
Justice defended the Sun Devils’ shot selection following the contest, saying “some people will take tough shots and it looks tough, but that’s just the style of game we play.”
Meanwhile, Rabb and Cal converted 51 percent of their shots, staying effective from beyond the arc, where they shot at a 38-percent clip.
In total, you would be hard pressed to find a performance outside of the Kentucky game in which the Devils struggled this much, and ASU fans will likely look to forget this one quickly.
The Sun Devils will host Stanford (12-11, 4-7 Pac-12) Saturday night at 6 p.m. MST.