It was just another weekend starter for the No. 25 Arizona State Sun Devils (16-6, 4-6 Pac-12) in Seattle last night, falling 68-64 to the Washington Huskies. The loss drops ASU to eighth-place in the Pac-12, a far cry from its No. 3 AP ranking just a few weeks ago.
Here are some things we saw in Thursday’s close loss:
1. ASU doesn’t have a true closing lineup
The Sun Devils are 5-6 in games decided by 10 points or fewer this season, with many of those contests coming down to the final couple possessions. That’s a problem for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations. While it shows that ASU is competitive in all of its losses, that record also shows a lack of closing ability. Teams are focusing on senior guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice, forcing role players to make plays. In each of the last two losses, the ball has found the hands of sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell, who was unable to make a play to give ASU a bucket when it’s needed.
There are ways for ASU to scheme itself into better shots, but it truly comes down to execution. If the players can’t find a way to win close games consistently, things could spiral out of control to end a once-promising season.
2. Stick with what’s working
Over the course of the game, one thing seemed to work consistently: A guard would pass to Justice in the soft spot in Washington’s zone scheme, giving him the option to either shoot a short jumper from the free throw line or pass to a big, depending on how the defense responded. It’s how Justice ended up with 16 points and redshirt freshman forward Romello White and junior center De’Quon Lake combined for 19 points.
Despite the production, it felt as though ASU went away from that play too many times, putting Mitchell in the middle or leaving Justice out around the 3-point arc. While it’s understood the kind of weapon Justice is from the outside, there’s something to be said about taking what the defense gives you, and it looked like the Huskies were giving that opportunity more than it was taken.
3. Where’s Kimani?
Freshman forward Kimani Lawrence is a victim of circumstance. He was injured during the preseason and missed out on a 12-0 start. He’s never been able to get in the flow because ASU has been in close games all of conference play and has not developed that trust with the coaching staff yet in game situations. Now he’s kind of forgotten.
Lawrence has played double-digit minutes just three times, all in wins. He recorded a 3 trillion against Colorado and has not been a factor in almost any game this year. He isn’t necessarily the missing piece that will turn this season, but who’s to say he can’t be?
4. The free throw line is not their friend
After relying so heavily on the guards’ ability to get to the line in non-conference play, it has been a bugaboo in Pac-12 play. In three of their six losses, the Sun Devils missed free throw count was greater than or equal to their margin of defeat. They also haven’t made teams pay for missing, as three of ASU’s losses came when the other team made fewer than 70 percent of their own free throws.
The charity stripe isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it can swing games, especially in close conference games. If the right Sun Devils aren’t getting to the line anymore and the wrong ones continue to miss consistently, the advantage will rest on the other bench, something the Sun Devils can ill afford.