Washington State Preview

Washington State forward Brock Motum

The final homestand of the season is upon us as the Arizona State Sun Devils (19-7, 8-5) will look to inch closer to an NCAA Tournament berth as they play host to the Washington State Cougars (11-16, 2-11) on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Arena.

Last place in the Pac-12 is not where you want to be but in the Cougars case, it doesn't truly reflect the talent level. This team is coming off a weekend in which they lost two games to the Oregon schools by a total of three points. They have lost six straight with four of the losses coming by four points or less. In their nine games decided by five points or less this season, Ken Bone's squad is just 1-8. Moral of the story: this team comes to play every night. Against Oregon, Wazzu blew an 18-point lead and lost in overtime. Royce Woolridge scored a career-high 36 points in the loss.

Another road-trip, another split for Arizona State but this was the most polarizing of them all. The Sun Devils blew a golden opportunity for a road victory against an inferior opponent when the wheels fell off in Salt Lake City and ASU could not hold on to their late lead and fell to the lowly Utes behind Jason Washburn's dominant performance (26 points, 9 rebounds) and free throw shooting (ASU shot 4-10 from the line).

Three days later in Boulder, ASU completed the season sweep of the tough Buffaloes as Evan Gordon made a layup as time expired in overtime to give the Sun Devils a stunning 63-62 victory in an extremely hostile environment. The loss for Colorado was just their sixth at home in the last three seasons under Tad Boyle. Jahii Carson scored 18 to lead ASU but Evan Gordon was the real hero scoring 14 points in his first game off the bench this season.

In the first meeting between the Cougars and Sun Devils in Pullman, Jahii Carson scored 25 points without turning the ball over as ASU prevailed 63-59 in an ugly name that ended with both teams shooting below 40% from the field and combining to miss 34 three-pointers. Evan Gordon and Carrick Felix scored 13 and 11 respectively while Royce Woolridge scored 16 points to lead Wazzu.

Throughout the ASU/Colorado telecast on ESPNU, it was mentioned a handful of times that beating the Buffs would leave the Devils on the right side of the bracket in his latest Bracketology but while that is well and good, there are still at least six games to be played and maybe more – there is a TON of time remaining for the Sun Devils to further cement their Tournament status in either direction.

Washington State and Washington are both in the bottom tier of the Pac-12 standings and these are games that the Sun Devils must win – no excuses. A sweep is necessary as the Sun Devils will hit the road for their final three games in L.A. and Tucson.

Head Coach:

Ken Bone: 5th season at WSU – 68-61; 407-251 career

Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 117-102; 371-260 career

Projected Starters:

G – DaVonte Lacy (10.4 PPG, 1.8 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.7 PPG, 4.9 APG)

G – Royce Woolridge (9.8 PPG, 37% 3PT) vs. Chris Colvin (5.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG)

F – Brock Motum (17.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG)

F – Dexter Kernich-Drew (6.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG)

F – D.J. Shelton (5.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.5 PPG, 3.8 BPG)

Why WSU Can Win:

Mike Ladd scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the first battle between these two but Wazzu's second-leading scorer will miss this one as he recovers from a knee injury. Brock Motum is the leading scorer but really struggled from the field the first time out going against Carrick Felix and the Sun Devils will look to put Felix on Motum again. If WSU stands a chance, they'll need Royce Woolridge to put up a similar explosion to the one he just put up against Oregon. The Kansas-transfer and Sunnyslope High School alum has posted double-digits in six straight games and will look to shine in front of the family.

Why ASU Can Win:

On paper, ASU can win because they are a better team with better statistics and a better record but as everyone knows, games are not played on paper. What stands out for the Sun Devils is their ability to win at home. After winning just 15 games at home in the last two years combined, the Devils will look to pick up their 15th home win of the season on Wednesday. Against CU, Jordan Bachysnki broke out of a slump with 12 points and just looked more confident with the ball and his impact, good or bad, is vital to ASU's success.

The aforementioned lineup change proved to look brilliant as Evan Gordon played like he had something to prove after a few very quiet games. All that being said, this team is at its best when Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix are leading the charge and that will be no different moving forward. ASU shot poorly in the first meeting but only turned the ball over four times – if the Sun Devils can protect the ball and make a few more shots, victory should come easily.

Key Stats: History should happen Wednesday as this Sun Devil team is just two blocks shy of the school record set in 1996-97. With 170 blocks, ASU is also within reach of UCLA's Pac-12 record of 199 set in 2011-12.

X-Factor: Anyone that has watched this team closely knows that Jon Gilling is much more than meets the eye with his passing and rebounding but his shooting funk is really a cause for concern. Shooters are streaky and that comes with the territory but this is something else. If you take out Gilling's incredible night in Washington when he scored 22 points on 8-10 shooting including 6-8 from deep, the numbers are ugly. In the other 12 games, the Danish sophomore is shooting 30% (32-104) from the field and just 21% (16-74) from deep. If Gilling's shots can fall, the Devils are that much more dangerous.

Final Score: ASU 73 WSU 64

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