TEMPE, Ariz. – 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.
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.
ASU (10-11, 3-5) led 34-29 at halftime. It quickly got worse for the Huskies. Tra 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. Evans led ASU with 25, Holder had 23, while leading scorer Torian Graham had 17.
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.
On Sunday, they play at No. 7 Arizona, one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
At least that one will be over early.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.