The late hour of Wednesday night’s tipoff was a popular conversation topic among those whose jobs required them to be at Wells Fargo Arena.
The game between Washington and Arizona State began at 9:06 p.m. Mountain Time, the sixth time in the last five seasons that ASU has played a weekday game this late. Folks here didn’t love it, but in this TV-first era, that’s the way it goes.
The inconvenience at least prompted some good humor. One usher working the tunnel leading to the locker rooms, in response to a yawning ASU staffer some 70 minutes before tipoff, cracked: “No yawning allowed. It’s going to be a long night.”
She meant that literally, though it proved true figuratively. The product put forth by the Huskies and Sun Devils went from hard to watch to harder to watch to interesting to ugly, two lower-tier Pac-12 teams attempting to avoid the indignity of losing to the other.
ASU was better at it, winning 86-75 after a late deluge of 3-pointers by Tra Holder, sending the Huskies to another loss – they’re now 9-11 overall and 2-6 in Pac-12 play – in a matchup that seemed to portend a more competitive result.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of guarding them in the first half,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They’re an explosive team offensively and in the second half, we had a couple lapses, and they capitalized.”
These teams come in 11th and 12th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, so it was reasonable to expect a high-scoring affair. So, of course, UW shot 30.6 percent from the field in the first half, ASU shot 36.7 percent, and the Huskies scored only 19 points in the final 14 minutes of the half after taking an early 8-1 lead.
“We had opportunities,” Romar said. “This wasn’t a situation where we just couldn’t get good looks at the rim. We couldn’t knock the shots down.”
Said ASU coach Bobby Hurley: “I thought our defense was as good as it has been all year, especially in league play, in the first half.”
Whatever the reason, ASU (10-11, 3-5) led 34-29 at halftime. It quickly got worse for the Huskies. Holder hit a step-back jumper, Shannon Evans II made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and Holder made a floater in the first two minutes of the second half, a 10-0 run that gave ASU a 44-29 advantage.
Those few minutes contained a comedy of errors, if you find bad basketball funny. Markelle Fultz missed a pair of free throws. Matthew Atewe missed a pair of free throws. David Crisp missed a fastbreak layup. Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle ran into each other chasing after an offensive rebound and knocked the ball out of bounds.
And then, buckets. Freshman guard Carlos Johnson swished a 3-pointer. Crisp made one, too. Johnson hit another. Thybulle hit one. Fultz drove baseline and scored. Dickerson posted up and scored. Suddenly ASU led just 50-47, the Huskies awakening for their most competent surge of the evening.
It was short-lived. Holder made three consecutive 3-pointers during a 14-4 run that gave ASU a 69-54 lead with six minutes to play, and the Huskies had little remaining proficiency with which to counter.
Fultz, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, used a late surge to finish with 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, and would have had more if his teammates hadn’t flubbed so many of his passes. Evans led ASU with 25, Holder had 23, leading scorer Torian Graham had 17 and the Sun Devils overcame their poor shooting in the first half to put up a 48.4 percent mark in the second.
The Huskies wound up shooting 40.3 percent from the field, narrowly avoiding a sub-40-percent showing for the fourth time in five games. They shot 11-for-31 from 3-point range and 6-for-13 from the free-throw line. Open looks didn’t fall. Layups caromed off the rim.
Everything that typically goes right in Tempe – UW had won five consecutive games here, and 10 of 11 against ASU overall – went wrong.
“Go back and watch the game and just see how many shots we missed,” Romar lamented. “We missed layups, we missed wide-open shots. We never fault guys for missing shots. No one is trying to miss shots. We couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
On Sunday, they play in Tucson at No. 7 Arizona, one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
At least that one should be over early.
Game in review
Player of the game: Shannon Evans II led ASU with 25 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range and 10-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line. Tra Holder added 23 points and made three big 3-pointers in the final minutes. Markelle Fultz led all scorers with 28 points and nearly had a triple-double, but the nod goes to Evans here for his steady effort.
Play of the game: Not a play, but a sequence: after Carlos Johnson scored to cut ASU’s lead to 55-50 with 10:37 to play, Torian Graham and Holder combined for an 8-0 run in a span of just 70 seconds to push ASU’s lead to 63-50. UW never really threatened after that.
Stat of the game: UW committed 13 turnovers and ASU had 11, but the Sun Devils finished with 17 points off turnovers and the Huskies had only two.
Quotable: “One time I think we were down 5, something like that, and we get a stop and can’t come up with the ball. Then we get a stop, can’t come up with the ball. They end up hitting a 3. Just little things like that.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
What it means: It means the Huskies still aren’t very good. Arizona State has virtually no bench, no size and is, statistically, the worst defensive team in the Pac-12, and the Huskies still couldn’t beat them. If they couldn’t make it happen Wednesday, the prospect of UW winning a conference road game this season doesn’t look good.
Up next: Washington at No. 7 Arizona, 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 13.
Christian Caple: firstname.lastname@example.org