It's not exactly a secret that the Arizona State Sun Devils are having something of a down year at 1-5 in conference play after a rough 78-61 loss against the Washington State Cougars in Pullman on Thursday.
But that certainly doesn't mean that Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar is overlooking them as they prepare a 1 p.m. meeting with the Sun Devils at Hec Edmundson Pavilion tomorrow.
"I never go into an Arizona State game not being worried," said Romar today during a chat with reporters on an arena floor prepping for gymnastics. "You always respect every opponent you play against. You always want to respect them - fear none, respect them all. But Arizona State can make it a little complicated for you to where you better be organized, you better know what you're doing going into that game or they can give you problems, they can give you fits."
ASU is known for their aggressive matchup zone that can both apply pressure and shift so quickly that it's hard to find ways to break it.
"They have an ability to extend their zone and really get after you where you feel you have to go somewhere and make a play, but yet they're covering for each other," said Romar. "They move quickly and it seems like they're seven of them out there at times."
Unfortunately, on Thursday night, the only team given fits by Arizona State's zone was Arizona State, according to Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic.
Short-handed ASU basketball falls at Washington State
It was hard to find a silver lining. Not with the Cougars (14-5, 4-3 in the Pac-10) bullying ASU inside. Not with Washington waiting in Seattle on Saturday.
"Our defense gave us no chance to win," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "I don't have any easy answers. I don't have any quick fixes in my back pocket. It's obvious we're really struggling in some areas, and we have to keep working to get better. I don't have a Knute Rockne speech that's going to work."
So as Haller asked in his article, where do they go from here?
To Romar, the only direction they can go is up - these struggles might just be part of the process of acclimating new personnel to a complex defensive scheme. So just as opponents normally to address to them, right now players could be adjusting to what they're trying to do.
"New players - that zone, I guarantee you, you go to practice, you're not going to learn that zone in one day how to do it and I think it's something that you have to be a little bit more experienced at," said Romar. "It could take a while for it to get going; sometimes during that process, maybe you lose confidence and other times it clicks. So I don't know what the case is with Arizona State now. I know you watch them go out against Arizona at Arizona, you watch film of that game in the beginning it's 9-2 Arizona State right off the bat and they're playing with a lot of confidence. They weren't able to sustain that for 40 minutes."
And if sustaining defensive intensity for 40 minutes is a problem against a team that UW just overwhelmed in the second half yesterday, then ASU could be in for a long night in Seattle.
Of course, those problems have only been compounded due to illness: against WSU, ASU was without three players and an associate head coach, but most notably without starting sophomore wing Carrick Felix. Unfortunately, as Haller noted, that didn't work out so well.
The Sun Devils might have missed Felix the most. His aggressive, attacking style has brought a different dimension to ASU's offense, which has struggled all season. Without the athletic sophomore, the Sun Devils relied on their outside shooting, a touch they haven't had in some time.
It didn't work. ASU shot 32.8 percent, missing 10 of 29 from 3-point range.
So no doubt, the odds definitely stand against the ASU Sun Devils. However, with there being a long line of teams still challenging for a Pac-10 regular season title, Romar expects to prepare his team as though he's playing against the fully functional, dangerous Arizona State teams we've become accustomed to.
"It's one of those type of zones where if you were to play them in the first round of the NCAA tournament and it's something you don't face everyday it could really give you problems," said Romar. "It could give us problems tomorrow. So we have to make sure that we're detailed in how we want to go at it."