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February 10, 2012It's nearing mid-February and Arizona State has yet to win back-to-back games this season, as sure a sign as any that it isn't a halfway decent basketball team. It probably won't get there before the sand runs out of its hourglass a month from now, but there are signs that at the very least an attempt is being made.
Thursday was one of those moments, as the Sun Devils beat Utah 57-52 in front of 5,002 at Wells Fargo Arena, a team they lost to on the road just three weeks ago by 21 points.
With the win, ASU improved to 8-16 overall and 4-8 in Pac-12 play, equaling its conference win total from last season with six games remaining. The Utes dropped to 5-19 overall and 2-10 in league play.
The lowly opponent notwithstanding, ASU's performance was a little more impressive than the final score indicated, with the Sun Devils leading by 47-33 with 6:26 left before a 19-7 run brought Utah as close as 54-52 in the game's final minute.
In the end, it took two free throws from junior guard Carrick Felix - who had 15 points and eight rebounds on the evening - with 11 seconds left to seal the game for the Sun Devils.
"They really took it to us last game when we were out there," said junior Trent Lockett, who returned from a six game absence due to an ankle injury. "It felt good to get a win. But obviously we were up 14 at one point with like four minutes left, so again we've got to finish better."
Lockett played 36 minutes and contributed 12 points and six rebounds, but it was his presence on the floor more than anything that helped the Sun Devils, who nonetheless had 20 turnovers, including four by Lockett with two coming in back-to-back possessions in the first half.
"It's going to be a process," Lockett said. "Obviously I haven't played for three weeks so like I said it's going to be a process but it's just good to get back healthy."
The Sun Devils' key player on the night may not have been Lockett however, but rather sophomore center Jordan Bachynski, who continued his strong play of late with his first career double-double, which included 11 points and 12 rebounds.
"We've always contended that he has the talent quotient," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "He has some special gifts and talents, things nobody can teach. I think as much as anything for Jordan it's just going through that learning curve and gaining experience and understanding exactly what it takes. I think that light is beginning to shine more brightly for him and he's starting to make incredible progress."
As good as it was, Lockett said he reminded Bachynski it could have been even better, as 10 of his rebounds came in the first half.
"Basketball is a game of confidence," Lockett said. "He's really come in and found his niche. He likes his up and under move and he knows he can rebound well. If he continues on that path he'll really help us."
It was early in the game that Bachysnki and the Sun Devils set the tone not only on the glass - where they out-rebounded Utah 40-22 overall - but also on the defensive end, where they've been heavily criticized by their coach for a lack of consistently intense effort.
"I felt like we were (better defensively), especially in a stretch there in the first half," Lockett said. "I felt every time down they were struggling to get a shot, calling timeouts. I think you can build on that. When you see a team call timeout because they can't score, that gets you fired up and you can continue to build on that through the game."
ASU's turnovers weren't offset by its rebounding advantage and the Utes took 17 more shots from the field and yet made fewer than ASU, going just 17 of 56 overall. Part of it was better post area defense and hustle from the Sun Devils and a lot of it was an opponent that just isn't very good.
But at this point the Sun Devils will take whatever they can get, and they'll go for their first back-to-back win of the season Saturday against Colorado, a team that is much better.
"When we made defensive stops, that's when we gained momentum, that's when we gained energy," Bachynski said. "When we made that breakaway, that's when we really started to do stuff."