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January 8, 2011It's not getting any easier nor will it.
Just like it did in its Pac-10 home opener Thursday, Arizona State started slow -- glacially slow -- at the start of Saturday's afternoon game against Cal before mounting a comeback only to come up short in a 65-61 loss to at Wells Fargo Arena.
This one was closer at the end, with ASU having four 3-point attempts in a key final-minute, three-offensive-rebound possession while trailing by 62-59, but the Sun Devils seem a long way from being a quality team with just two months remaining in the season.
"We had a couple really good looks there at the end, couldn't have got better looks in that situation," Sendek said. "Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn't. But as we always say in sports you can't magnify that possession. It had no more weight or value than any of the others that came before it throughout the game. There were certainly opportunities to do better, to do differently, throughout the course of the game."
ASU fell to 8-7 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-10 in what looked on paper to be a friendly opening four game stretch of conference play -- about as friendly as it could be anyway -- but has proved otherwise. Cal improved to 8-7 overall and 1-2 in the league.
The themes are becoming increasingly consistent: bad rebounding, poor ball security, sloppy offensive execution and irregular energy.
Four turnovers and a 17-4 rebounding deficit for ASU to start the game contributed to a 7-0 opening run for Cal and 27-12 lead at the 5:36 mark before the Sun Devils stormed back to finish the half on an 11-4 run of their own.
The Sun Devils continued with strong play early in the second half, eventually tying the game 40-40 at the 12:05 mark. All told, they outscored the Golden Bears 28-13 over a 13-plus minute stretch of the game.
But ASU could never take a lead, with Cal keeping it just at arm's length the rest of the way.
Senior Ty Abbott had 18 points to lead the Sun Devils and made 4-of-8 from 3-point range, though he missed three of the team's final long range attempts on the key late stage sequence.
"I felt great about them until they didn't go," Abbott said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. Guys set multiple screens for me and I got some looks but they didn't go."
Senior Rihards Kuksiks, who misssed the other key late 3-pointer, was the only other Sun Devil in double figures with 10 points.
Cal was led by 21 points from Jorge Gutierrez and got 17 from Allen Crabbe.
ASU shot the ball at a higher percentage than Cal -- 43.4 percent to 38.3 percent -- but was destroyed on the glass, outrebounded 43-27 in what was clearly the stat of the game.
"I thought Ty really got going for us and that was probably as much a difference for us as anything (with the shooting)," Sendek said..' Ty really stepped up, especially in the second half and got us going. I thought that was really important."
With senior point guard Jamelle McMillan again out of the lineup due to a groin muscle strain, Sendek used yet another new starting lineup combination, with junior Brandon Dunson joined by Abbott, sophomores Carrick Felix, Trent Lockett and Ruslan Pateev.
Pateev played reasonably well, with six points, four assists and three rebounds in 31 minutes. He had several key assists from the inside during ASU's second half run. But bright points were few and far between on an afternoon when walk-on freshman guard Marcus Jackson played 15 minutes at point guard backing up Dunson, leaving heralded freshman recruit Keala King on the bench for the entire game.
"I don't think we've shown ourselves to be a real crisp, efficient, good passing team," Sendek said. "I don't know that that's a strength of ours right now. We don't have fluidity of our passing. I don't think it's a function of knowing the offense or anything else other than seeing the game as it unfolds in real time and making god decisions and passing the ball well."
Last season, Sendek took massive corrective action, completely overhauling his offensive scheme after the Sun Devils opened the Pac-10 0-2. Such a move won't happen this year, he said.
"I don't think we have the same realm of possibility." Sendek said. "We have an entirely different team than we had a year ago. So I don't see that as being necessarily the answer. We've got to get better at what we do and I don't think it's a function of schematics."