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January 22, 2014

ASU looking to get back on track at home

They don't call it home advantage for nothing.

Arizona State is 9-1 at Wells Fargo Arena this season and 25-5 over the past two seasons at home.

Coming off a two-game skid on the road against UCLA and Arizona, the Sun Devils have an important opportunity hosting Utah (14-3; 3-3 in Pac-12) Thursday and Colorado (15-4; 4-2) Saturday.

"I say it was a good test for us-to see where we stand against two of the better teams in the conference," sophomore point guard Jahii Carson said. "We had UCLA close, we had U of A at times where we were close, but we didn't play as hard and when you play teams like that, you got to match their energy, you got to match their intensity and you got to match the plays that they make. It was a good test for us. I think further down the conference when we see those guys again it will be a better one."

At 13-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play, the Sun Devils need to get their heads back above water in the Pac-12 if they're going to accomplish their goal of an NCAA Tournament berth.

"We look at them as must-win games," Carson said. "We look at them as two great energy bursts. We try to flush the Arizona game out of our system. We haven't been playing to our capability in any of our conference games I don't think. I think these two energy bursts games are the time that we can get out and show the conference that we haven't been playing out best and we are going to try to make a statement with these two games."

Utah has been a surprise team in the conference, upsetting previously ranked UCLA on Saturday. Coming into the season, Utah lost double-digit scorers Jarred DuBois (12.4 points per game) and Jason Washburn (11.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounding average).

Nevertheless, Utah has quickly emerged with new big-time players led by transfer junior guard Delon Wright, who has put the Utes on solid footing in the Pac-12. Wright leads the league in field-goal percentage at an impressive 63.5 percent.

"They're tough, green, blue-collared team," Carson said. "I think everyone would agree in the whole conference. When they see Utah coming they know they got to strap up and put their boots on because it's going to be a nice little war. We had two tough ones with them last year and we stood with them and they have good players. They have a new cast that we don't know too much about and we're looking forward to the challenge."

ASU head coach Herb Sendek emphasized the importance of prevailing during this two-game homestand, especially with the Pac-12 being as tough as it is this season, be it home or away.

"Every game seems to take on bigger than life proportions because you look at the schedule, there's no game you can consider to be a layup," Sendek said. "They're all tough. Winning on the road is very difficult but so is winning at home."

While Utah is 0-3 away from home, in all three of its losses, Utah only lost by three or fewer points. Against the Sun Devils, Utah could either extend its losing streak away from home or look for confidence boost before heading to play No. 1 Arizona on Sunday.

Closing in on reaching 1,000 career points, Carson specifically sees the next two games as opportunities for him to get back into his rhythm after what he described as the toughest stretch he's gone through individually of late.

"[I've been] having a lot of pressure as far as outside, inside forces," Carson said. "Not really feeling myself and it's been tough. Every basketball player goes through slumps. Everybody goes through their great stages. It's just focusing on and locking down. That's just part of being a man, having ups and downs. It's been tough for me but I'm getting my flow back and I'm excited for the next couple games and I think my teammates are as well."

In the previous five games before his breakout in the second half of the Arizona game, Carson was averaging 14.4 points and 1.8 assists, shooting 34.8 percent from the field. However, while Carson struggled during that stretch, in his mind, the fact that he was constantly in the spotlight for ASU wasn't a negative.

"That's one of the reasons why I came to Arizona State…to be looked at as one of the leaders and one of the players who everyone looks at when things go good or things go bad," Carson said. "I just look at myself if we lose basketball games, and say did I put everything out there on the floor. If we lose and I put everything out there then I'm fine. Everybody comes up short every now and then, but recently my team looks to me and I haven't been producing. I haven't been producing as far a leader and stepping up to the plate and playing the best basketball I can play."

In support of Carson, ASU looks to hopefully get back senior guard Jermaine Marshall after he suffered a groin injury last week during practice that forced him to miss the Arizona game. Sendek said that Marshall has made "tremendous ground" and if he continues to move in the same direction, it looks very promising for Thursday's game against Utah.

Marshall is key in the ASU's productivity, the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 15.6 points per game. Furthermore, for the next two games, senior center Jordan Bachynski will need to be on top of his game, especially playing against his brother, Utah junior center Dallin Bachynski on Thursday.

In the five ASU losses this season, Bachynski has averaged 10.8 points and in two of those five losses only scored in single-digits; compared to his average of 12.7 points per game in ASU wins.

"Honestly I've never seen us work so hard and play so well in practice," Bachynski said. "We've had a great couple days of practice and I think guys are in the right mindset."


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