The atmosphere around the ASU men’s basketball team is contagious. The team talks about one thing and one thing only.
Winning a conference championship.
In order to do that, the Sun Devils have to win a huge game on Saturday afternoon against California, which sits just a half-game ahead of ASU in the Pac-10 standings.
So, with the first-place showdown looming, it would be easy for ASU (19-8, 9-5 Pac-10) to overlook Thursday’s matchup with Stanford, which it beat by 18 points last month, right?
ASU coach Herb Sendek preaches staying in the current moment and not to overlook a single practice, let alone a conference road game.
“Guys are so used to that — [that] is how he is and that is how he has made us,” senior guard Derek Glasser said. “We know what is at stake. If we lose to Stanford, the Cal game means nothing. We want to play for the championship of this conference, and to do that we have to beat Stanford. We know that.”
Sendek is so focused on Stanford (13-14, 7-8), that he wouldn’t even answer questions on anything regarding Cal (18-9, 10-5) during his weekly press conference.
“That would be absurd because we have to play Stanford on Thursday,” Sendek said. “I’m telling you, that it is going to take one of our best games to be competitive on Thursday. We know that better than anyone on Earth.”
There are many reasons why ASU can’t let it’s guard down against the Cardinal.
Start with the home-court advantage.
Stanford is 10-3 at Maples Pavilion this season, as opposed to 2-10 on the road.
The Sun Devils have won in Palo Alto just twice in the last eight seasons, and have swept Stanford only twice in the previous 16 seasons.
“They are a tough home team,” Glasser said. “They are tough and physical and they feed off of their home crowd.”
Another factor that makes Stanford dangerous is the two-headed monster of senior forward Landry Fields and sophomore guard Jeremy Green.
The duo averages a combined 39.7 points per game, more 56 percent of the Cardinal’s total offensive output. other player has led Stanford in scoring in a game this season other than Fields or Green.
Fields is seventh in the NCAA in scoring with 22.2 points per game, and scores in a variety of different ways.
“He is a long athletic player,” junior guard Ty Abbott said. “I think this year, more than ever, he is stronger. When you get a guy like that, that works hard and crashes the offensive glass, it is a tough person to stop.”
While Fields likes to score from all over the court, Green is a 3-point gunner. The Texan has attempted 206 shots from downtown, connecting at a 40.3 percent clip.
“It seems like when he crosses half-court, he is in range,” Abbott said. “He is a very good 3-point shooter — you have to know where he is. You need to really understand his game and just being there with a hand up isn’t enough. You have to prevent him from catching [the ball].”
In the team’s previous matchup in Tempe, ASU slowed Green down during the key stretch that let it open up a 37-point lead.
Defense led to offense, and vice versa, as the Sun Devils shot 56 percent in that win.
Like always, making shots is the key to any ASU victory this season.
“I always think the key to basketball is balance,” Sendek said. “Defense and offense are inseparable. We are going to have to play good basketball on both ends of the floor and for over the course of 40 minutes.”
With so much talk of a trap game, Sendek made clear that if ASU falls to the Cardinal, it probably won’t be because it overlooked it.
“Does that mean that if we don’t beat Stanford we were looking ahead? No.” Sendek said. “When that ball is tossed up and you are on the court, we are focused on the task at hand, and that is where we need to be.”
With the conference race so tight and its NCAA tournament hopes dangling by a thread, each game is important to ASU.
“We understand Stanford is a good team and we understand that we can’t look ahead,” Abbott said. “We need each of these four games. We have to get wins in order to make history around here.”
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