I exited Wells Fargo Arena a few ticks before midnight Friday and was caught in a rush of ESPN technicians and laborers loading equipment into a super 18-wheeler.
I asked the driver where he was headed.
“Waco, Texas,” he said. “Doing the Oklahoma State-Baylor game there on Monday night.”
The college basketball season stops for no man, not in February, not when it’s still four weeks until Selection Sunday. Nobody pats you on the back and says “you were robbed” or “you’re THIS close to being 25-0.”
Arizona is fracturing before our eyes for the simplest reason in basketball: It can’t consistently shoot accurately. No matter what the percentages say, this is becoming the worst-shooting UA team since Lute Olson’s first year in Tucson, 1983-84.
Since Brandon Ashley was hurt, Nick Johnson has shot 2 for 24 from three-point range. In that same period, he is 14 for 60 overall. That’s 23 percent.
He is the club’s most reliable shooter. Only reliable shooter? On Friday, no one from the bullpen, no one on the UA bench, scored a point.
I maintained a year ago that Mark Lyons was the top recruit in Pac-12 basketball, better than all the freshmen All-Americans, especially UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, because he could score in the clutch.
Without Lyons last year, Arizona’s 27-win, Sweet 16 team would’ve struggled just to get to the NIT.
That’s why I think this year’s leading recruit in the Pac-12 is ASU senior Jermaine Marshall, a one year-rental player from Penn State, 23 years old, who is this year’s Mark Lyons.
Before arriving at ASU, Marshall scored 29 points against Michigan State, 25 against Michigan and 23 against Wisconsin. Nobody in the league brought in someone, not even a McDonald’s All-American, with the impact of Marshall.
And on Friday, scoring 29 points, including eight in succession late in the second overtime, he was the difference against Arizona. He was Mark Lyons and then some.
ASU coach Herb Sendek recruits counter to the accepted formula of Top 25 programs like Arizona.
His all-conference center, Jordan Bachynski is a 24-year-old returned Mormon missionary from Canada. Sendek saved his job by convincing Marshall that he could form the league’s best threesome, with Bachynski and guard Jahii Carson, rather than fitting into a smaller role at North Carolina.
The game is fluid. Out goes Angelo Chol. In comes Jermaine Marshall. Big loss. Big gain.
After Friday’s agonizing loss, no one chummed up to Sean Miller and said, “If only Grant Jerrett hadn’t gone, you’d have crushed the Sun Devils.”
Grant Jerrett? He scored 64 points (including 10 three-pointers) in three NBA D League games between Feb. 4-11.
He’s not coming back, and the Sun Devils aren’t going away.