The No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils (15-4, 3-4 Pac-12) got back in the win column Saturday night with a 81-73 win over the California Golden Bears (7-13, 1-6) in Berkeley. It was ASU’s third straight win in the second game of a weekend set of Pac-12 play.
1. Desperation helps
In ASU’s conference wins and losses, there seems to be one factor that determines the outcome each time. In games played on weekdays, the Sun Devils are 0-3. On games played on weekends, ASU is 3-1.
Small sample size? Sure. Unscientific? You bet. Accurate? Absolutely.
The point is not to say that ASU forgets how to play during the week, but that the Sun Devils need that extra motivation of a mid-week loss to right themselves. All three Pac-12 wins have come after disappointing first games. If ASU can harness that second game energy in every game, the Sun Devil slump will soon come to and end.
2. Balance is back
Sometimes, the Sun Devils become too reliant on one player over the course of the game. Often, it has worked out as senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II have propelled their team to wins that way. Lately, though, it hasn’t been enough.
Saturday, ASU found its way again. All nine players that checked into the game for ASU scored a point and grabbed at least one rebound. Four players reached double-digit point totals, but only Holder took more than nine shots from the field.
With Holder cold over the last couple weeks, ASU struggled to find an offensive identity. But games like this make that identity easier to find moving forward when someone else inevitably gets cold.
3. Shibel and Mitchell are back where they belong
For ASU’s final non-conference game against Pacific, coach Bobby Hurley made a change to the starting lineup, inserting sophomore Mickey Mitchell as the starting power forward over redshirt freshman Vitaliy Shibel.
As their workloads switched, production dipped for both, as Mitchell hadn’t scored above 10 points since the change, and Shibel had scored five points total.
Hurley made the switch back, and the move immediately paid dividends. Shibel, who needs more time to get into the flow of the game, scored eight points, his second-most in a game this season, while Mitchell dropped a season-high 12 in 25 minutes as a reserve.
Shibel takes some time to get into the flow of the game, but when he does, he’s productive. Mitchell is high-energy and will take advantage of the time he gets on the floor, no matter how much time it is. They belong in the roles they have now, and keeping it could turn around this slump.
4. Lawrence is finding his footing
Since returning from injury, freshman Kimani Lawrence has looked timid at times and has not been the force on the wing many thought he’d be.
Against Cal, though, Lawrence was active on both ends of the floor, scoring seven points and grabbing a rebound on each end.
Lawrence won’t be 100 percent this year, but he’s trending in that direction. If he continues to improve, he’ll be a serious threat for a bench unit that has already flashed signs of dominance this season, including Saturday’s 41-point performance.
5. Luck is a factor
Not to put a damper on a solid Sun Devil win, but fouls nearly cost ASU what should have been an easy win. While the foul numbers were equal, the Golden Bears went to the free throw line six more times than ASU did.
Thankfully for the visitors, Cal could not take advantage. Senior forward Marcus Lee missed seven of his 10 free throw attempts and brought down the team free throw percentage to a paltry 54.5 percent, which won’t win a lot of games.