The Arizona State basketball team is prepping for yet another Saturday afternoon showdown with a familiar conference foe.
Fresh off a 98-93 overtime victory over the USC Trojans, the Sun Devils (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12) are prepping for a big-time challenge from the UCLA Bruins (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12).
The Bruins have taken their fans on quite the roller coaster ride this season and nobody is sure which team will show up on Saturday; Coach Herb Sendek and Sun Devil Nation hope that it is the one that lost to Cal Poly in late November.
The Bruins took down the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats on Thursday night with little problem. If you believe in the associative property of mathematics, this means that the Bruins are going to destroy the Sun Devils.
Thankfully, this isn't math—this is sports. Any given team on any given day can win if all the pieces fall properly into place.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
When: Saturday, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. ET
Watch: FOX Sports Net
Listen: 620-AM in the metro Phoenix area, Sirius 94/XM 190
Traditionally, this has been a lopsided series with the Bruins winning 13 of the last 16 meetings. The Devils have lost four straight to the Bruins but took three of the previous four when James Harden was on the roster.
This is a much different team than the Sun Devils remember, different as in better. The Bruins only compiled 19 wins last season and did not participate in an any postseason tournaments. With 16 wins in their first 20 games, the Bruins could finish the regular season with 27 wins—incredible.
The Bruins lead the conference with 78 points per game and are tied with Saint Mary's College for No. 18 in the nation. They also lead the conference in field goal percentage and assists.
Freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad leads the conference in three-point shooting at 47 percent and is fourth in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per game.
Point guard Larry Drew II leads the conference in assists and is No. 3 in the country averaging an incredible 8.2 dimes per game.
The Devil's in the Stats
Arizona State is averaging 73 points per game, No. 5 in the Pac-12. They are also hitting 46 percent of their field goals, good enough for No. 2 in the conference—with UCLA at the top. They lead the conference by a large margin and are No. 4 in the nation with 7.26 blocks per game.
Freshman sensation Jahii Carson leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game, one spot behind Muhammad in the conference in the No. 5 spot. He also leads the team in assists and is No. 2 in the conference with 5.3 per game, behind another Bruin, Larry Drew II. He also leads the team in minutes and free throw percentage.
Senior swingman Carrick Felix had a tough game against Arizona on Saturday but returned to form on Thursday night. He also leads the team in three-point percentage, steals and rebounds with 8.1 per game. He is the only player in the Pac-12 that is in the top 10 in five different categories (scoring, rebounds, field goal percentage, steals and blocks).
Big man Jordan Bachynski's 59 percent field goal percentage leads the team as does his 80 total blocks or 4.21 per game. This astounding number leads the conference and is No. 3 in the country. He is a master clean-up artist with a team-leading 47 offensive rebounds keeping the ball in play for the Sun Devils.
Who Wins the Game?
This is going to be a tough game for the Sun Devils, and they will need to come out strong at the outset of the game. With backup point guard Chris Colvin still believed to be riding the pine on Saturday, it will extremely important for shooting guard Evan Gordon to continue his hot streak. Reserve guard Bo Barnes will also need to step up and fill in at the shooting guard spot when Gordon spells Carson.
Defense will need to be the highest priority for Sendek and crew as we saw how Shabazz Muhammad and company carved up the Wildcats on Thursday night. The Sun Devils can run a fast-paced high-octane game without having to live and/or die by the three-point basket.
If the Sun Devils can get off to a good start and not have to spend the game playing catch-up with the Bruins, they have all the components to win this game; it just depends on if they fall perfectly into place.
UCLA 82, Arizona State 76