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ASU Basketball: Saddled by short bench, Sun Devils are starting to run out of stamina

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Mama said there'd be days like this.

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There were flat-footed jump shots that led to front-rim misses, airballed layups, and multiple angry arm-crosses from a frustrated and bewildered Bobby Hurley.

The scene has become an all-too familiar one for the Arizona State Sun Devils throughout the past month.

Thanks to an unexpected transfer, a departure due to personal reasons, and a lingering knee injury, Arizona State is down to just seven active scholarship players with just one month remaining in the 2016-17 season. The team is visibly shorthanded and exhausted, and the lack of depth is starting to show on the scoreboard.

“Our performance was embarrassing,” said shooting guard Kodi Justice after the team’s latest loss, an ugly 68-43 decision on Wednesday. “We missed layups and free throws. I just think people weren’t 100 percent ready to play.”

Some of that can be attributed to the team’s tough recent schedule, which has seen them play three games in six days. Two of those contests were on the road, and two started past 9:00 p.m. Arizona time.

But regardless of who they’re playing, where they are playing, and what time they’re playing, it’s no secret that a large portion of the Sun Devils struggles can be blamed on the thin roster.

Four of Arizona State’s five starters played at least 38 minutes in Wednesday’s 25-point loss against the California Golden Bears, and only one bench player saw more than one minute of action on the floor.

The tired legs and lack of energy resulted in miscues such as getting beaten easily down the floor on fastbreak opportunities and picking up silly fouls on defense due to reaching and hand-checking.

“We have to do a better job as coaches to make sure the energy is max coming out of the gate,” Hurley said. “We need to be excited from the start.”

That lackluster effort showed from the outset as a tight zone defense from California forced the home team into multiple bad shots. Those shots often came up short, clanking hard off the rim to the chagrin of a largely lifeless crowd of just over 5,000 fans.

The Sun Devils went nearly nine minutes without scoring at one point (and nearly 11 without a field goal), allowing the Golden Bears to turn a 17-17 tie into a 37-20 lead. They ended the game shooting at just a 25.4 percent clip from field, the team’s poorest mark of the season and the program’s worst since last year’s 25 percent outing at Utah.

“17,” recounted Hurley after the game. “We had a hard time moving off that number."

The drought allowed Cuonzo Martin’s team to easily pull away, handing the Maroon and Gold their third loss in their last four games. They now sit at three games under .500 for the season, beginning to drift further and further away from even being able to be considered for the NIT.

“There wasn’t much to say,” Justice said when asked about Hurley’s message to the team during and after the game. “What can you say?”

Indeed, this mess might be out of the coaching staff’s hands at this point. Worse yet, it might not even be able to be solved by the players.

Sam Cunliffe, the team’s highly-touted freshman, is now in Lawrence, Kansas.

Maurice O’Field, who was supposed to provide depth at the two spot this season, has left the team due to personal reasons.

Andre Adams has potential but is still sidelined with a nagging knee injury.

And the team’s two young bigs, Ramon Vila and Jethro Tshisumpa, are still so raw that they only see the floor if Obinna Oleka finds himself in foul trouble.

This team seems tired, emotionally drained from blowout defeats like Wednesday’s and hard-luck losses like the one suffered last Thursday at Oregon. And they now face the choice of playing out the string on the remaining month of the season, or finding a new gear and making a push at some kind of postseason tournament.

With just six games remaining in the regular season, that choice needs to be made soon.