Since the beginning of Pac-12 play, the No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils have followed a pretty simple pattern. Lose close in the first game, then win closer in the second.
In ASU’s five Pac-12 losses entering Saturday’s game with the Colorado Buffaloes, the scoring margin was 6.2. In three wins, it was 4.7.
With so many close games, the Run-and-Sun Devils were forced to slow into a possession game, something they have struggled with of late.
Saturday was different.
In an 80-66 victory, the Sun Devils (16-5, 4-5 Pac-12) made 10 second half 3-pointers en route to their highest-scoring half since dropping 57 points in the final 20 minutes of a win over Pacific on December 22.
“I think the guys maybe just had enough,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “They’re too talented and they’ve done too much this year and made so many big plays. They were due to, like, all do it together.”
The offense didn’t come easy for ASU, who missed all 10 of their first half 3-pointers. No Sun Devil scored more than six points in the first 20 minutes and offense seemed like a chore to a team that once made it look so easy.
Then, redshirt freshman Vitaliy Shibel nailed the first shot of the second half from right in front of the ASU bench. It was open season from there on in.
Midway through the second half, the vets took over. Senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans alternated deep shots, making five of six over the next 3:23 to jump all over the Buffaloes and give ASU a lead it would not relinquish.
“These players are too good for us to not be able to do that,” Hurley said. “You don’t do it for two months and then it just goes away and you never see it again.
With each made 3, the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena roared along with the Sun Devils, each of whom waved them louder as the half went along and the lead expanded. Led by Holder and Evans, who scored 18 and 13 second half points respectively, ASU looked like it was back to feeling itself the way it used to.
Evans, when asked the last time he had this much fun in a game
“I can’t even remember, to be honest,” Evans said. “We’re trying to get back to having fun, sharing the ball, get out in transition, things like that. I felt like we found something in the second half that we can build on.”
ASU’s burst of 10 3-pointers in the second half wasn’t just much-needed to win the game. It was one the Sun Devils were missing for the first eight Pac-12 games, a hallmark of why they began the season 12-0 and No. 3 in the AP Poll.
The Sun Devils can’t become overly-reliant on stretches like their 18-4 burst that put the game away Saturday, but Holder, Evans and company harkened Hurley back to a time when things were just a little bit easier.
“Will they have those type of runs where everyone’s making them one on top of the other in the second half? You hope that that happens on a regular basis,” Hurley said. “But it sure felt good for me to see numerous guys make big shots throughout the half.”
ASU’s wins over Oregon State and Cal felt like turning points, as well, but it returned to its old ways the next week. It remains to be seen whether this truly will get the Sun Devils back on track, or is just another weekend surge before a weekday lull.