The 16th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils (15-4, 3-4 Pac-12) were in a slump. They were 2-4 in Pac-12 play, still getting stymied by the zone defense and their offense wasn’t clicking.
For a team looking to get back on track, the California Golden Bears (7-13, 1-6), the worst team in the Pac-12, were a gift-wrapped present.
On Saturday night in the Bay Area, the Sun Devils opened their present faster than a kid on Christmas — arguably looking as close to their non-conference self as anyone has seen in Pac-12 play with their 81-73 victory over Cal.
The Sun Devils didn’t have the size advantage, not with 6-foot-9 forward Marcus Lee on the floor for Cal. The senior had his way with the Devils down-low — finishing with 23 points, 8 rebounds and getting multiple ASU players in foul trouble.
So, what the Sun Devils lacked in size they made up for in sharp-shooting. Arizona State shot 48 percent from both the field (29-61) and from beyond the arc (10-21) — both percentages were the Devils best in conference play thus far.
However, that wasn’t the case in the first half. Despite heading to the locker room with a 41-30 lead, the Devils had only taken eight 3’s, hitting just two.
It could have been something that coach Bobby Hurley said in the locker room or the Devils may have just feeling the hot-hand. Regardless, they came out firing.
Four of the Devils first five shots coming out of the gate were triples. ASU connected on all of them.
Vitaliy Shibel, who started for the first time since December 19 and had eight points, hit two. Tra Holder had one and freshman Remy Martin added another.
ASU’s shooting display extended the team’s halftime lead to 15.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the maroon and gold, though, they did have to survive a bit of a scare. With 12:26 to play, Cal, which was down 12, started using it’s size and pushing the ball down low.
The Golden Bears used only layups and free throws to go on a 12-2 run and pull within four.
How did ASU combat Cal’s run? The answer didn’t surprise anyone. It shot 3’s.
The Sun Devils next nine points all came from beyond the arc. The first two came courtesy of Shannon Evans, who finished with 10 points, and the third rolled off the fingers of Martin.
Unlike most of ASU’s previous wins which often ride on the back of one dominant scorer, everyone got involved Saturday.
All nine Sun Devils that took the court against Cal scored a point, and ASU’s leading scorers, Holder and Martin, finished with only 13 points. The Arizona State bench, that managed only 13 points against Stanford on Wednesday, excelled.
The four-person unit consisting of Martin and forwards Mickey Mitchell, who finished with a double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds), De’Quon Lake and Kimani Lawrence combined for 41 bench points — the second-highest total since Hurley got to Tempe.
ASU was expected to beat Cal. Heck, most teams that play the Golden Bears are. But, for a team looking to regain its prolific offense, Saturday was a step in the right direction.
The Sun Devils quest to turn that step into a leap will begin on Thursday as they’ll welcome in the Utah Utes to “The Bank” at 7:30 MST.