Less than one month ago, Arizona State was one of the best shooting teams in the country. Though the Sun Devils haven’t been able to find the range lately, they stand a good chance of getting back on track against one of the nation’s worst defenses.
The 24th-ranked Sun Devils hope to regain their shooting touch and avoid their third straight Pac-10 loss Thursday night when they visit Oregon, looking to elude its first 0-10 conference start in 16 years.
Arizona State (16-5, 5-4) shot 54.5 percent from the field to cruise to a 76-58 win in its first meeting with Oregon on Jan. 10. After that game, the Sun Devils ranked second in Division I in field-goal percentage at 51.9.
Since then, however, they’ve shot 37.4 percent while losing three of five games.
“Basketball is about putting the ball in the basket, and for the last several weeks that has been our albatross,” coach Herb Sendek said after his team shot 40.7 percent in an 84-71 loss to then-No. 23 Washington on Saturday.
Sendek, who fell short in his second bid for his 300th career victory, added in his weekly press conference Tuesday that he didn’t think facing stiff Pac-10 competition in each game during conference play was to blame for his team’s recent struggles.
“I think we’re getting, by and large, the same quality of shots. In some instances, better shots than we did when we were shooting so well. I don’t have any brilliant insights to explain (it),” he said. “… You just have to keep playing, keep working and take the next open shot.”
That might be slightly easier to do against the Ducks (6-15, 0-9), who are allowing opponents to shoot 48.0 percent this season to rank among the worst teams in Division I. They’re giving up a conference-worst 51.3 percent in Pac-10 play while allowing an average of 75.9 points—every other team in the league is below 70.
Oregon’s defensive struggles are part of the reason the team is off to its worst conference start since dropping its first 11 Pac-10 games in 1992-93. Another contributing factor is that the Ducks have eight freshmen on the roster, four of whom played in Saturday’s 57-54 loss to Oregon State.
“We knew it was going to be a process,” coach Ernie Kent said of rebuilding his team after consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. “We feel we’re every bit as good to go win nine games right now.”
While that’s not likely, the Ducks could help their chances of getting their first league win Thursday if they can duplicate Washington’s defensive effort against Arizona State’s James Harden.
Harden, the Pac-10’s leading scorer with 21.9 points per game, was held to four field goals and 15 points while being hounded by aggressive double teams in Saturday’s loss.
Harden had 19 points on 5-for-12 shooting in Arizona State’s January win over Oregon, and Sun Devils guard Derek Glasser added a season-high 15 points and a career-best 11 assists.
Oregon guard LeKendric Longmire led the team with 15 points and eight rebounds in that game, but the rest of the Ducks’ starters combined for 10 points and 1-for-11 shooting from the field.
The Ducks have won three straight home games against the Sun Devils, who are looking to win three consecutive conference road games for the first time since 1995-96. Arizona State defeated then-No. 9 UCLA and Arizona in their last two away from home before dropping consecutive games in Tempe.