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Beating Arizona: How Arizona State did it

Arizona's most recent loss was against Arizona State on February 7th. Here’s a look at how it happened.

Herb Sendek came up with the plan to beat Arizona, but it didn't save his job
Herb Sendek came up with the plan to beat Arizona, but it didn't save his job
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You probably know by now that Arizona has lost a grand total of three games by a grand total of nine points this season. The pessimistic take on that fact is fairly obvious; the optimistic one is that they are beatable. We've reached out to the SBN blogs that cover each of the teams that has knocked off Arizona this year to get a feel for how it happened and whether or not Xavier can replicate their efforts. Our final piece in this brief series will look at Arizona's most recent loss a mere 13 games ago.

Arizona State jumped out to a four-point lead within the first minute and carried a seven-point margin into halftime. Arizona chipped away all second half and got to within a possession late in the game, but ASU was able to answer every run and came away with a three-point victory. The Sun Devils put together a solid offensive game, shooting 26-52/7-15/22-28 while Arizona coach Sean Miller (perhaps you've heard of him) bemoaned his team's lack of defensive toughness - especially around the rim - in his post-game comments.

To provide further background on this game, we asked Connor Pelton - basketball writer for SBN's ASU blog House of Sparky - for a few minutes of his time. He obliged.

Banners on the Parkway: Tarczewski was bad (2/9/1 on 1-6/0-0/0-0 shooting) in the Arizona State win; was it a schematic decision that took him out of the game, or just good one-on-one defense?
Connor Pelton, House of Sparky: The coaching staff made a concerted effort to not let Tarczewski beat them. He was pressured hard whenever he touched the ball in the post, and while this strategy did result in the other four starters all scoring in double digits, they did their main job and escaped with the upset. While on offense, Arizona State did a good job of challenging the center and got him in foul trouble early. This did not limit his playing time much but did result in him not being too physical down the stretch.

BotP: Your offense shot the ball really well (26-52/7-15/22-28) against an Arizona defense that has been fairly stingy. Did your guys just get hot at a good time, or was there something put in place that was resulting in really clean looks?
CP, HoS: Simply put, everything clicked at the right time. The team had shown signs of hot shooting in the weeks leading up to this game, but a combination of winning nearly every 50/50 ball (which led to a lot of quick, cheap buckets) and impressive ball movement on the perimeter made for a perfect storm.

BotP: Wow, I just noticed 28 FTA and 25 fouls called on Arizona; friendly whistle or just good execution? Is Xavier going to need the stripes going their way to have a shot in this one?
CP, HoS: There were some questionable calls, but there were some strange whistles both ways [ed. note: ASU was called for 20 fouls on the game #refshow]. The difference was that the calls that went the Sun Devils way resulted in free throws the majority of the time, while the ones for Arizona did not. A little help from the officials never hurts when you're trying to beat a top ten team.

BotP: Arizona State was trailing 25-18 with 9 minutes to go in the first half before a 19-4 run completely flipped the game. What triggered that outburst?
CP, HoS: Arizona State upped the ante on defense, and the saying "the best offense is a good defense" really proved true during that run. The crowd was whipped into even more of a frenzy than they already were and the team just got into a rhythm the likes of which we didn't see again all year.

BotP: KenPom has Xavier losing by 10. The line opened at Xavier -11. From my angle, this looks like a huge mountain to climb for X. Give a reason to believe we can get this win and move one step closer to our first Final Four.
CP, HoS: Well, Kansas and Virginia have already bowed out of this tournament, and if I was asked this question last week I would have said the Wildcats were more beatable than both of those teams. Getting them into some early foul trouble will be one of the biggest keys to an upset. If you do that, you'll start to see the team that lost to UNLV, Oregon State, and Arizona State and not the one that has dominated opponents like Utah and Ohio State. It's not going to be easy, and it's one of those games where every possession from the opening tip to the final seconds is going to be critical. But beating this team is not impossible.

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Thanks again to Connor for taking a break from covering the Herb Sendek firing to answer our questions.

Here's what I'm taking away from that: Tarczewski can be attacked on both ends if you do it wisely. Arizona has too many weapons to defend them all; someone is going to get his, and we have to be okay with that. They're not a machine; if you punch them in the mouth (figuratively), you can put together a run against them. What are your thoughts?