Momentum can be an important thing for teams, especially when March rolls around. For a majority of the last two months, ASU hasn’t had much of it -- and if it did, it was usually squandered within a game or two.
Shots weren’t falling, wins weren’t coming and that NCAA Tournament bubble seemingly kept creeping closer and closer with each week that passed. Unlike most teams come tournament time, ASU wasn’t playing its best basketball. The Devils were on the downswing while most tournament teams are trending upwards.
Before Thursday, Arizona State had gone two straight weeks without a win -- including losses against Arizona, at Oregon and at Oregon State. A team that went a perfect 12-0 in non-conference play quickly put itself in a position where being the eighth best team in a weak Pac-12 conference was the best possible finish.
Like shooting, wins can be contagious, no matter the opponent. Some people see ASU’s 84-53 win against Cal for what it is: A victory over one of the worst power-5 teams in the country. Cal is 8-22 and the 209-ranked team in ESPN’s RPI.
But, possibly showing the difference of ASU in January and ASU in March -- the Sun Devils only beat Cal by eight in Berkley. Yes, the Golden Bears are terrible. But, yes, the Sun Devils played significantly better against them on Thursday.
So, what does it mean? Who knows.
No, that’s not a great answer but, then again, Cal isn’t a great team. The Sun Devils could carry their no-look passes and their engulfing energy into the same arena on Saturday against Cal -- stringing together Pac-12 wins as they did against the L.A. schools -- or they could validate the beliefs of all those who bash on Cal.
Let’s face it, ASU has not achieved any level of consistency in the Pac-12 this season -- aside from consistently splitting series, of course. The Sun Devils were expected to win, a loss may have even put them on the wrong side of that bubble.
Throughout the entire conference season, ASU fans, and the team for that matter, have been waiting for the Devils to flash their non-conference form. There were glimpses. Some that even warranted people proclaiming that ASU was now back to being the ASU from November and December.
Thursday is no different in that aspect. Even Sun Devil forward Romello White, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds, declared it.
“We’re back to who we are,” White said.
The one thing that seemed to be different on Thursday from all of those other Pac-12 wins that got people excited, however, was that ASU actually looked like it did in the non-conference season -- granted it was against a team that, according to RPI, is worse than a majority of its early-season opponents.
But, the Devils were having fun. Remy Martin was dropping no-look passes to De’Quon Lake, Shannon Evans jumped up and dribbled between his legs before going in for an up-and-under layup and Kodi Justice faked a behind-the-back pass before getting a layup to fall for his 1,000th career point.
“It was great. . . to get back to playing freely,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Some of the plays in the second half were who we are and who we’ve been most of the year.
It’s going to take game, or several, to figure out if the momentum ASU gained against Cal was real or just a fluke. But, gaining it for a game is better not having it to begin with and in their first game in March, the Devils played like it was November.