After trailing by as many as 22 points against UCLA, the season of ASU basketball’s next opponent, Utah, seemed to be falling apart right in front of their eyes.
The Utes had entered the game on a streak of hard luck, having won only one of their last three games following an early four-game winning streak in conference play.
While the season looked lost, senior Parker Van Dyke looked poised to not let his final year begin to dissipate, as he led Utah back from 22 down to a one-point victory behind a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
The three was one that not only saved the game for the Utes; It saved the season, as the team now has the chance to fight for a top-four spot in the Pac-12 which would lock up a first-round bye come time for the conference tournament.
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After the last-second victory over UCLA, the Utes maintained their momentum as they rolled over struggling Arizona Thursday, now winning seven of their last nine games and putting them in prime position for that first round bye.
The only thing standing in their way?
A ball of inconsistency in the form of Arizona State, who will be looking to avenge their loss in Boulder to Colorado Thursday night as they travel to Salt Lake to take on the Utes.
The Sun Devils will also look to get even with an early Pac-12 loss to the Utes, who came into Tempe and lit up the scoreboard in a 96-86 victory over ASU.
In the first matchup, it was senior Sedrick Barefield who carried the majority of the offense with a team-high 24 points, a scene that has been common for the guard against the Sun Devils.
Over the course of the last two seasons, Barefield has averaged 20.6 points per game against ASU, a full four points higher than his team-high 16 points per game this season.
While the Sun Devils will certainly turn their attention toward Barefield, the recent success of Van Dyke cannot be overlooked.
The fellow senior recently set his career high in points against Arizona with 23 points alongside seven three-pointers, one short of the school record. While not a consistent scorer at just 7.1 points per game, Van Dyke has shown the ability and possesses the talent to light up the scoreboard if left alone.
While the pair of seniors provide experience and scoring, there is a young Ute on the team who lacks the former of the traits, but does not lack the latter.
Freshman sensation Timmy Allen has provided scoring all-season, including a 22-point performance to lead his team against UCLA.
While his point total of 11.6 points may seem low, Allen contributes in many ways on the court, including pulling down five rebounds per game and dishing out a little over two assists per matchup.
Allen has also increased his scoring total since entering conference play, as he has averaged 14.4 points per game in Pac-12 play while also leading the team in steals on the defensive end with 12.
The Sun Devils will once again have their hands full as they attempt to slow down a variety of weapons that the Utes boast on both sides of the ball while attempting to win in a difficult place to play in Salt Lake City.
Whether it’s a matter of higher elevation of the city – which sits at 4,226 feet compared to Phoenix’s 1,086 – or Utah’s head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s halftime speeches, the Utes have been fantastic in the second half of games this season.
Against UCLA alone, the Utes almost doubled their first-half total of 32 points with 61 in the second half, a trend that has stuck with the team all year long. The splits show Utah averages 34 points per game in the first half of games while pushing the total to 38 in the second half.
Arizona State will look to withhold the Utes second-half run as they hope to keep pace for a spot in the first four of the conference for a first-round bye of its own.