On January 16, Arizona State had an opportunity to prove it could surge above the Pac-12’s jumbled middle class in a game against then-No. 1 Arizona. The Wildcats dump-trucked Arizona State, 91-68.
Since then, the Sun Devils have quietly won five of six to move into third place in the conference standings. Its latest triumph, a 74-72 nail-biting win over Oregon on Saturday, was probably closer than it should have been.
The Sun Devils led by 21 points around the 15-minute mark in the second half. It seemed as if they’d coast to another comfortable victory. Ducks guard Joseph Young was having none of it. He scored 27 points over the final 13:30 to push Oregon within two on its final possession. But Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski sealed it with a block on a reverse layup attempt from Young at the buzzer (video above).
Young shot 11-of-22 from the field for 29 points, all of them coming after halftime. Forward Mike Moser added 14 points and five rebounds. The Sun Devils got a career-high 26 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks from Bachynski to go with 11 points 12 boards and six assists from point guard Jahii Carson.
For Arizona State, a team that should be part of bubble talk between now and selection Sunday, this is a nice win. The Sun Devils will need to close the regular season strong, but their recent run of success has put them in a good position. Beating Arizona – the team that eviscerated the Sun Devils right before their season turned for the better – at home next Friday is Arizona State’s next challenge. I would imagine the Sun Devils will be excited to avenge their loss in Tuscon.
Oregon could have used this win more than Arizona State. The Ducks have undermined their at-large credentials by losing eight of their last 10 games. They should be able to win their next three games (home meetings with Oregon State, Washington and Washington State), but that won’t do much to move the needle. The Ducks will need to avoid bad losses and capitalize on the limited opportunities for good wins they have left on their schedule (at UCLA on Feb. 27, against Arizona on March 8).
When the Ducks opened the season with 13 consecutive wins and earned a top-10 ranking in the Associated Press Poll, it seemed unfathomable they’d miss the NCAA Tournament. If Oregon, which is 1-5 against the RPI top 50, doesn’t get the wins it needs down the stretch, missing out is a real possibility. The encouraging thing is Oregon has challenged two good teams on the road (Arizona and Arizona State). To make headway on the bubble, though, Oregon needs results. It hasn’t notched a truly impressive one all season.
Saturday’s loss is a tough result for a team that doesn’t have many opportunities left to prove it belongs in the NCAAs.