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WSU Men's Basketball

Fresh off momentous win, WSU heads to Tempe to take on ASU in first clash of season

Washington State center Rueben Chinyelu throws up a roadblock on Arizona center Oumar Ballo under the basket during Thursday’s Pac-12 Conference game at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.  (Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Jaylen Wells had to laugh when he looked at the iPhone. It was showing a picture of Wells, face down with his torso in the first row of the McKale Center crowd, which looked stunned to watch him knock down the winning 3-pointer while getting fouled in WSU’s win over Arizona Thursday night.

In the photo, the Arizona player responsible for the foul, Keshad Johnson, looks upset at the call, his arms stretched to his sides. Underneath him is Wells, who didn’t see the shot go through the net. Only when he heard the crowd’s reaction did he realize he had just hit one of the biggest shots in WSU history.

The entire scene lives in this one photo.

“I haven’t seen that. That’s hilarious,” Wells said, his teammates wrapping up practice at Arizona State’s practice gym behind him. “Everyone was saying they thought I was hurt or something. I just couldn’t get up. I literally couldn’t get up.”

Arizona’s Keshad Johnson argues Thursday about being charged with a foul on Washington State’s Jaylen Wells, who is under him.  (Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star)
Arizona’s Keshad Johnson argues Thursday about being charged with a foul on Washington State’s Jaylen Wells, who is under him. (Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star)

For Wells and the Cougs, now it’s time to turn the page. No. 21 WSU faces Arizona State Saturday evening, less than 48 hours removed from toppling No. 4 Arizona. But in Tempe, the Cougars are trying to move on, trying to extend their eight-game winning streak and strengthen their grasp on first place in the Pac-12.

“It was pretty easy (to move on) because we got to the hotel at 2 and went straight to sleep, wake up the next day,” Wells said. “It wasn’t too hard. We’re already in Tempe.”

That’s where Washington State (21-6, 12-4 Pac-12) will play Arizona State (13-14, 7-9), which has dropped its past two games and seven of its past nine. The Sun Devils are coming off an overtime loss to Washington, which followed a 45-point blowout at the hands of rival Arizona.

ASU’s top players include guard Frankie Collins, who averages 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds a game; fifth-year guard Jose Perez, who posts 13 points per game; and Jamiya Neal, a 6-foot-6 guard who is averaging 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds.

The Sun Devils, who are meeting the Cougs for the first time this season, are coming off something of an enigma off a loss to the Huskies. Early in the second half, ASU went down 25 points, prompting coach Bobby Hurley to call timeout and lay into his players. Out of the timeout, he inserted a bench unit that included his son, Bobby, who helped the Sun Devils trim their deficit to 13.

That’s when Hurley reinserted his starters, who nearly led ASU all the way back. Collins used a layup to tie the game at 75 with 7 seconds left.

But missed free throws doomed the Sun Devils, who misfired on three in crunch time.

“I think the world of Frankie,” Hurley said, according to the Arizona Republic. “He’s in very select company with me in regards to how I view him and what I think of him, but for us to win any games the rest of the way he’s got to play better and he’s got to lead our team better. He can’t allow what happened again. That’s a big responsibility to take on, not easy.

“You’re going to have to go outside of yourself and do more than just play and worry about your own game. You’re in charge of whether we’re ready to play or not.

“He needs to set the tone all the time. If he doesn’t then we’re going to have very little chance to win going forward.”

Recent games aside, Washington State will look to capitalize on a few of ASU’s weaknesses, including 3-point shooting – the Sun Devils are hitting just 31% – and rebounding, where ASU is grabbing 30.1 per game, second to last in the conference.

The Cougs are anticipating the Sun Devils to crank up the pressure on defense, though. Collins averages 2.9 steals per game, tops in the Pac-12, and he set the program record for steals in Thursday’s game.

“I think a lot of it is controlling their pressure. They’re gonna do a lot of full-court stuff, pressure us a lot defensively,” Wells said. “Offensively, I think they have a lot of really good 1-on-1 individual players. So making sure we guard, which we usually do, so I’m not too worried about that. So just being locked in like always, handling pressure and playing defense.”

For the Cougs’ NCAA Tournament purposes, this road test falls into the Quad 3 category, where they are 5-1 this season. They have played their way firmly into the tournament.

For WSU, it now becomes about bolstering its resume as strongly as possible.