For a few moments on Sunday night, the Arizona State men’s basketball game against Pac-12 rival University of Colorado took on a “Rocky Balboa” feeling. There was the underdog, answering every punch by a confident opponent with its own gritty resolve. A jab here, an uppercut there, and ASU found itself in position to defeat the highly regarded Buffaloes.
In the end, the Sun Devils prevailed 65-56 before 6,298 at Wells Fargo Arena. The contest left many ASU fans fondly recalling the glory days of Scott, Lever and Lister.
CU traveled to Tempe expecting an easy victory. The Buffaloes’ RPI (Rating Percentage Index) was No. 6 coming into the game, and they were anxious to vent their frustrations after losing at the buzzer to the third-ranked Arizona Wildcats just three night earlier.
A pleasant January evening in the desert started ominously enough. The Sun Devils quickly fell behind 20-7, and in desperation, coach Herb Sendek turned to his bench for a lift. The spark was provided by reserve guard Bo Barnes, who drained a three pointer — his first points of the season — to trigger a comeback. ASU responded with a 58-36 run for the remainder of the contest.
Sendek was generous with praise in his post-game comments. “The guys played with a lot of heart,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a better word to depict our team. I couldn’t be prouder of them and their poise and composure to stay even-keeled when we were struggling early.”
The key to ASU’s impressive come-from-behind victory was rugged defensive play by its front court; Carrick Felix, Jonathan Gilling, and Jordan Bachynski combined for 25 rebounds while contributing 48 combined points. Bachynski, in particular, was stingy at the hoop; the 7-2 junior center from Calgary, Alberta, blocked or deflected shots at critical times and provided a touch of fury just when the Devils needed it.
Arizona State must now prepare to take on Oregon State on Thursday in Corvallis.