No. 4 Arizona State looks to end skid at Utah
Olympic champion Michael Phelps spoke to the Arizona State basketball team last week, his message centering on maintaining competitiveness and determination in every circumstance.
The No. 4 Sun Devils, who have lost their last two, will try to apply that at Utah in the second game of their Pac 12 Rocky Mountain trip that concludes Sunday night in Salt Lake City.
"He said what he learned most out of his losses was to win," Arizona State guard Tra Holder said.
"Having an underdog mentality."
Arizona State (12-2, 0-2 Pac 12) may have been an underdog entering the season, but after non-conference victories over No. 5 Xavier and No. 10 Kansas, it has become a target as the grind of league play begins.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle showed highlights of the Buffaloes' previous wins over ranked teams before the ASU game, and fans raced onto the court afterward.
"If you would have asked me before I got to Arizona State if I would have seen a situation where there was a court-storm after our game because an opponent beat us, I might have thought you were crazy," Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley told reporters.
The Sun Devils, the last undefeated team in Division I before a loss at Arizona last Saturday, are looking to avoid their third 0-3 conference start in the last four seasons after a 90-81 overtime loss at Colorado on Thursday.
"People are aware of us now," Hurley said, "(with) what we've done, and our ranking and such. We're going to get even more of someone's best shot, and we just have to be prepared for that."
Utah (10-4, 2-1) had a two-game conference winning streak snapped in a 94-82 loss to No. 14 Arizona on Thursday. The game was tied 77-77 with 3:45 remaining before the Wildcats went on an 11-0 run to take control.
Utes 6-foot-2 junior guard Sedrick Barefield had a season-high 23 points and made a career-high six 3-pointers against Arizona, finding his scoring touch after shooting only 38 percent from the floor entering the game. He had 20 points in the second half.
"I reminded him of a guy named Brandon Taylor ... a couple years ago, I think shot 20 percent in the preseason and ended up being one of the league leaders in shooting in Pac-12 play," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake City Tribune, alluding to a former Utah all-league guard.
"I'd rather have guys struggling in the preseason and stay true to how we're playing and defending and all those things and then start catching some breaks. I'm convinced karma has something to do with that."
The game will feature a marked contrast in styles. With Holder (22.1 points a game) leading the way among five double-figure scorers, Arizona State leads the Pac-12 by averaging 90.0 points. Its 48.5 field goal percentage is second.
Utah is second in the conference in average points allowed (68.6) and in field goal percentage defense (41.1). Forward David Collette averages 13.6 points, leading five Utes in double figures.
The perimeter-first Sun Devils have made 135 3-pointers, an average of 9.6 per game, which is second best in the Pac 12 to national leader Washington State. But they have made only 17 of 58 in their two losses and had particular difficulty finding open looks against Colorado's zone defense.
Shannon Evans II, ASU's second-leading scorer at 16.6 points, made 5 of 9 from 3-point distance while earning Pac 12 player of the week honors in a 95-85 victory at Kansas on Dec. 10, but has made only 9 of 47 since. He missed all six attempts at Arizona and all eight at Colorado.
"It's a long season," Evans II told reporters after the Colorado game. "We'll be all right."
Updated January 6, 2018
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