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January 3, 2013It is no secret Arizona State freshman guard Jahii Carson oozes confidence. The Mesa High School product has already proven he can play at the Division I level, but his composure under pressure in the Sun Devils' 55-54 overtime win against Utah revealed another characteristic.
When shots are not falling and the game is not going as planned, Carson's self assurance does not dwindle.
"He just has a great capacity, as do most great players, of staying in the present," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "He believes in himself, I think he knows we believe in him and he just has a great capacity to let whatever just happened go and make the next play."
What just happened was one of the worst shooting night's of Carson's brief ASU (12-2, 1-0 Pac-12) career. The freshman finished the night just 5 of 18 from the field and 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. However, the lone 3-point shot he made sent Wednesday's Pac-12 opening game into overtime and a tough layup with 35 seconds left gave the Sun Devils a one point victory over Utah (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12).
"Coming into conference (play) I know people are going to start making me take jump shots and I'm going to shoot them," Carson said. "I've got to get more confidence in hitting them (and) down in the clutch I feel confident."
Carson's final stats were not pretty, but that may have been fitting for a game in which none of his teammates were any more impressive.
As a team ASU shot 37 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point land. Just two Sun Devils, senior center Ruslan Pateev and junior center Jordan Bachynski, shot above 50 percent. Both are 7-footers who take a majority of their shots within several feet of the basket.
"I don't know that we did a whole lot offensively that is going to make our postseason highlight film tonight," Sendek said. "It was just one of those games. Every once in a while it's going to be a 10-7 game in the mud and someone's going to kick a field goal and win. It seemed like that kind of game tonight."
The offensive struggles were certainly disappointing for the Sun Devils, but Sendek was quick to give the Utes' defense credit as they've been performing well all season, only allowing opponents an average of just under 59 points per game.
Throughout every season there are games where a team simply does not have it on offense and defense becomes vital. ASU, except for a few bursts, was unable to consistently score, but was able to defend the basket. The Utes were held to 34 percent from the field and had four of their shot attempts blocked.
Bachynski, who already has 60 blocked shots this season, is typically the topic of conversation when blocks are being discussed, but senior center Ruslan Pateev had the most important block of the night Wednesday.
With 12 seconds left in overtime and ASU clinging to a 55-54 lead, Pateev blocked Utah senior guard Jarred DuBois' shot and the Sun Devils held on for the victory.
"Right after the timeout I told myself 'this could be your last game so you (have) to play hard and do your best and help the team,'" Pateev said.
The game may have been just one of 31 regular season games but it was the first time ASU won its Pac-12 opener in exactly four years. On Jan. 2 2009, James Harden's final season in Tempe, the Sun Devils beat Stanford to begin conference play.
Wednesday's win also provided the Sun Devils with their second four game winning streak of the season, a year removed from a season which only featured back-to-back wins on two occasions.