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ASU Basketball: Sun Devil offense sluggish in loss to Cal

Tough go

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State started slow, and never led in a sluggish 74-50 loss to Cal on Sunday afternoon.

The Sun Devils (5-8, 1-2 Pac-12) appeared to still be shaking off the holiday malaise as the game tipped off from Berkley, and the Golden Bears (9-5, 2-1) jumped all over them with a 9-2 start.

It was the first game for the team since a one-point loss to San Francisco on Dec. 19. In the weeks after, the Sun Devils had two games postponed due to COVID-19 cases with the USC and UCLA programs. One game with Florida A&M was canceled because of a power outage at Desert Financial Arena.

The Sun Devils looked every part of a team that hasn’t played competitively in more than two weeks.

Jay Heath, who was becoming increasingly more comfortable in his role with the team as a key supplemental scorer off the bench, was inserted into the starting lineup and struggled, shooting just 3 of 14 from the field.

DJ Horne led the team in scoring for the seventh time this season with 17 points. He was the only Sun Devil in double figures. He continued his impressive shooting from long distance, knocking down 2 of 4 three-pointers, which keeps him above 40 percent for the season.

For the rest of the team, shots from behind the arc routinely clanked off the iron. The team did not hit a 3-pointer for almost seven minutes at the start of the game.

Alonzo Gaffney, who had begun to find his rhythm in recent contests, was absent from the arena for an unreported reason. Jalen Graham was benched after it was clear his best game did not travel to the East Bay in the first half. John Olmsted saw action, and while he didn’t register any points, he was the only Sun Devil without a double-digit negative plus-minus rating for the afternoon.

While the calendar may have flipped to 2022, the issues that plagued the team in the beginning of the season appeared to have followed them into the new year. The team has issues generating consistent quality looks at the basket. Scoring is possible, but at times it requires the best of the athletic talents from the players on the court. Unless somebody has caught fire, jump shots are made at a below-average percentage.

On Sunday, those percentages were sub-35 percent from the field and sub-20 percent from 3-point range. Luther Muhammad did not attempt a 3-pointer, but the other two guards, Heath and Marreon Jackson, combined to shoot 1 for 8 on such shots.

In a positive development, freshman forward Enoch Boakye recovered from early foul trouble to score nine points, good for second behind Horne.

The defense, which Bobby Hurley has said multiple times is the most complete part of this Sun Devil team, was not at its usual disruptive level tonight. Cal often scored with ease, with greater than 50 percent of their possessions resulting in points.

The Sun Devils will aim to regroup, but their next opponent should be even more difficult as a trip to No. 5 UCLA awaits on Wednesday night.