By Chris Derrett
While men’s basketball says it has not underestimated any of their last five opponents, today’s game against Arizona State looks to be the stiffest competition before the semester ends.
“Arizona State’s coached by one of the best coaches in the nation in coach [Herb] Sendek,” coach Scott Drew said. “They finished second in the Pac 10 last year for a reason.”
In all of Baylor’s 2010 matchups, the Bears (5-0) have eventually cruised to victory. But the Sun Devils (3-2), who had a nine-point second half lead over the Bears last year before eventually losing, bring Waco its first challenge from a major conference this year.
“I think we’re ready for the next step in our schedule. The game’s going to be a lot harder than these first five games, and we’ll be ready,” freshman Perry Jones III said.
Behind its quick, guard-oriented lineup, Arizona State could make scoring more difficult for a team that likes pushing the ball and thriving from the transition game.
The Sun Devils employ a matchup zone defense designed to force undesired shots by blocking passing and driving lanes. It presents the same pressure on the ball carrier as a man-to-man defense and ideally keeps the ball on the perimeter.
“All you hear is, ‘great ball pressure,’” sophomore A.J. Walton said. “I think we have the people we need to help us get the victory.”
Jones III and junior Quincy Acy hope to crack the Sun Devils’ defense in the post. Combined they contribute nearly 30 points per game and have grabbed 29 offensive rebounds. A starter at the 3-position, senior Anthony Jones averages another 7.2 rebounds and adds versatility shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Walton has worked to limit his turnovers at point guard and finished Monday night’s game against Prairie View A&M with six assists and only one turnover.
“We’ve done multiple things to help us control our turnovers, and it’s really just a mind thing. We just have to control the ball and get it to where it needs to be on time and on target.”
And as the stat sheet already shows, the Bears’ offense relies on performance from senior LaceDarius Dunn. In two games of action, Dunn has nailed 10 of 19 3-point attempts and tallied eight assists.
“He’s going to shoot it before he turns it over,” Walton said. “You can pretty much guarantee 97 percent of the time it’s going to go in, so that’s a huge help.”
Defensively, Drew expects his NBA-sized team to continue forcing turnovers with its length employed in the Bears’ zone defense. Arizona State guards Trent Lockett and Ty Abbott, No. 1 and 2 in the team’s scoring, bring quickness off the dribble and could light up the Bears if able to penetrate.
The Sun Devils have proved their reliance on passing, earning assists on 79 of 120 field goals, or 65 percent. The Bears will undoubtedly try to disrupt their foe, something easier said than done.
“Their teams are very fundamentally sound. They don’t beat themselves,” Drew said.
Drew and his players agree that considering the defenses facing each other today, a 10-point lead could be like a 20-point lead in other, more fast-paced games.
“With two zones, I think it’s going to be a long, slow game, but once we get it going we’re more of a running team. Our transition is great,” Walton said. “If we can get them out of their game, it will be better for us.”