THE COUGARS lost in Tempe on Wednesday, 69-57, and in the process dropped to 2-12 in conference play. But in this season where so little has gone right, could the Cougars have been glimpsing their own, brighter future in the form of the victorious Sun Devils?
Could the 2012-13 season be to WSU be what 2011-12 was for ASU -- a painful, but ultimately beneficial ordeal leading to success?
Separate the two squads by a season. In 2011-12, ASU finished 10th in the conference and lost 21 games as its star recruit, guard Jahii Carson, was sidelined as an NCAA partial qualifier.
Carson, who dominated WSU for a second time this season with 21 points, showed just how impactful a standout bewcomer can be as the Sun Devils (20-7, 9-5) vie for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.
“He’s quick with the ball,” WSU sophomore guard DaVonté Lacy said during a postgame radio interview about Carson. “He’s shifty. He’s going to make a lot of money someday.”
Suddenly, the questions surrounding ASU coach Herb Sendek a year ago have vanished. The slow and plodding Sun Devils have transformed into explosive and entertaining as Carson has been complemented by breakout senior Carrick Felix, who had 23 points against the Cougars, and the defensive presence of Jordan Bachynski. He blocked five shots.
“It’s easy to play defense when you have someone down there [7-foot-2] to block your shots,” Lacy said.
WSU faithful only can hope the most important imports of Ken Bone’s era can produce similar results. While wing Demarquise Johnson, who is sitting out this season as an NCAA partial qualifier, and incoming freshman point guard Ikenna Iroegbu are not national-level recruits of Carson’s caliber, both were well-regarded. Couple them with guard Royce Woolridge, who continued his second-half outbreak with 16 points against ASU, and Lacy and the Cougars could feature a promising backcourt.
That also will require some development in the post, particularly with the graduation of senior Brock Motum, which means the team will need D.J. Shelton to breakout in his final year of eligibility. It also would not hurt if Iowa State transfer Jordan Railey can provide a shot-blocking presence in the post that WSU has lacked since DeAngelo Casto exited the program in 2011. And perhaps Junior Longrus can have a larger impact as a sophomore, as well.
All of that does little to quell the frustration of the present, though. After all, WSU is just one loss away from its most in a season since 2005-06. The Cougars also could lose 20 games for the first time in a decade.
After a Lacy layup with 6:06 minutes remaining in the first half, the Sun Devils went on a 14-3 run to take a 36-22 advantage into the intermission. ASU led by as many as 21 points during the second half.
“They built a lead and it was hard to come back,” Lacy said. “It’s hard to battle back from being down 21, especially on the road.”
Despite that, the Cougars cut their deficit to as little as eight points multiple times in the final three minutes. But the Sun Devils, who made 15 of 18 free throws, shot well enough from the stripe to thwart any comeback prospects.
“We’re not chumps,” Lacy said. “The silent character is when adversity hits. That shows our character.”
“They never give up,” he said. “They’re a great group to be associated with. I just wish there was more I and my staff could do to help them get there.”
It might just start with an infusion of talent.
WSU PLAYER OF THE GAME: Lacy had a solid all-around game with 15 points on 5 of 10 shooting. He also made three 3-pointers. On the defensive end, he had three steals.
INTERESTING STATS: The Cougars’ woeful shooting continued. Outside of Lacy and Woolridge, who made 7 of 15 field goals, no one who played consistent minutes shot well.
“We had good looks,” said Bone, whose team shot 40 percent from the field. “I liked the way we distributed the ball. We just did not make shots.”
NEXT UP ON SCHEDULE: WSU plays at No. 12 Arizona.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Shelton hit a 3-pointer with 8:41 left in the first half that gave the Cougars a 17-16 lead.
THE RECORD: WSU is now 11-16 overall and 2-12 in Pac-12 play.