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ASU Basketball: 5 takeaways from Sun Devils’ loss to Stanford

What we learned from the Devils’ fourth loss

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils (14-4, 2-4 Pac-12) fell to another Pac-12 foe Wednesday night, as the Stanford Cardinal (11-8, 5-1) used an extraordinary shooting night to power itself to an 86-77 home victory.

The Sun Devils led for only 16 seconds. They struggled defending Stanford’s big men as the Cardinal used their low-post dominance to exhaust the Devils on both ends of the floor.

Here are five things we learned from Arizona State’s fourth loss.

1. Maybe this is just who the Sun Devils are.

Isn’t this conference season going how most would’ve predicted before the season’s start? Now, obviously circumstances change things, but most predicted ASU to be in the middle of the pack in the conference, and it is.

The Devils were not only a surprise to those who made predictions about them, they were a surprise to their opponents.

Now, that does not mean any of their non-conference wins were a fluke, because they weren’t. Those teams just didn’t know what game plan and adjustments were needed to beat ASU.

Teams in the Pac-12 now have that, and it shows.

ASU’s ranking slips with each loss. Many are waiting for the Devils to flip the switch from the darkness that is its Pac-12 performance back to the light that was its non-conference slate.

But a team can only be upset so many times before it starts to become the underdog, and ASU is tiptoeing dangerously close to that.

The Stanford loss wasn’t about the zone, the Cardinal played man for a good portion of the game. It wasn’t about ASU’s shooting woes, as the Sun Devils connected on 43 percent. The loss was about ASU getting outplayed by a very good Stanford team.

It was a respectable loss, if there is such a thing, but a loss nonetheless that didn’t show many glimpses of where the team was a month ago.

2. Tra Holder’s recent struggles are alarming.

There are two schools of thought on the guard’s struggles. First, he is just in a inexplainable, horrible slump. Or second, as the broadcasters on Pac-12 Network alluded to every time he missed a shot, something is wrong with his right shoulder. Holder fell to the ground holding it in the Devils’ win against Oregon State last Saturday. Combining that game against the Beavers and the loss on Wednesday, Holder tallied just 13 points and 5 assists on 4-of-23 shooting.

The senior has been at the forefront of ASU’s success, averaging 19.3 points a game while being named to numerous midseason award lists.

But in his last four games, he hasn’t cracked 15 points. Those first two games were before anything apparent happened with his shoulder, so maybe it is just a slump. Regardless, though, ASU needs him to break out of it quick.

3. Sun Devils struggle defending the low-post

For those watching, the Devils dismay down low was frightening. They allowed Stanford forward Josh Sharma, who came into the game averaging four points, to have 14, including a handful of vicious dunks.

Sharma’s performance guided the Cardinal to a 46-30 advantage in the paint, and Stanford controlled the glass, too, out-rebounding ASU by 14.

The Cardinal would often send someone down the middle of the lane, just waiting for ASU to collapse, and it did. From there, the Cardinal ball-handler would simply dump it off to his teammate sitting on the block.

It became repetitive.

On the other end of the floor, ASU was working for its points by getting to the free throw line or taking tough 3’s. Stanford, on the other hand, made most of its buckets look easy, shooting 51 percent from the field.

4. Romello White gets back to non-conference form.

Prior to Stanford, in his first five Pac-12 contests, White was averaging just 5.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, both major drop-offs from his season averages.

He was dropping passes that would’ve setup routine dunks. The freshman was missing lay-ups near the basket as well. His rhythm has been off and he’s started picking up fouls quicker and quicker.

Wednesday was different.

Yes, he did miss a few close shots, but White led the team with 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting. His best stat, though, came from the free throw line where he nailed 11 of his 14 shots (78.5 percent), a drastic improvement from his 59 percent season average.

If he couldn’t get a lay-up to fall against Stanford, he at least got the whistle and points from the line. And throughout it all, he stayed out of foul trouble, picking up a mere three in 30 minutes of action.

5. The Sun Devils’ bench needs to step up.

ASU’s depth is in a much better place than it was a year ago, but the unit’s production has been lackluster and inconsistent.

Against Oregon State, ASU’s bench tallied up 27 points in a group effort. On Wednesday, it had just 13 — including 11 from freshman guard Remy Martin.

Those on the bench including De’Quon Lake, Vitaliy Shibel and Kimani Lawrence seem to disappear when they step on the court. Their production is stagnant and as a result, coach Bobby Hurley doesn’t keep them in long.

If opponents have indeed figured out the Devils, giving them a different look with a productive bench, could do nothing but help.