By Morris Phillips
The ASU Sun Devils came to Berkeley Wednesday night trying to forge an upward trajectory, something they could hardly claim two weeks ago when they beat Kansas, then lost to Princeton in an inexplicable eight-day span.
But 14 minutes in, the Bears’ active 2-3 zone was causing Arizona State problems, and they trailed Cal by 14. Yeah, the Bears have struggled, but double-digit leads can help a young ballclub gain wisdom in a hurry.
So how did ASU coach Bobby Hurley respond?
He turned to sophomore guard Remy Martin in hopes of giving his squad a boost. Martin fashioned his contribution in a mere, eight seconds.
The ASU sparkplug–a reserve who routinely plays starter’s minutes–sliced Cal’s lead to 11 with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Martin would go on to score or assist on every ASU basket in the six minutes leading to the half.
That run got Arizona State within 35-33 at the break. Then the Sun Devils took over in the second half, and they handled the Bears, 80-66, the 10th consecutive loss for the hosts in Pac-12 conference play.
To the Bears’ and coach Wyking Jones’ credit, their strategic wrinkle–playing a packed-in zone to limit penetration and put the onus on ASU’s shooters–worked. ASU opened the game by missing 11 of their first 12 shots. They just couldn’t sustain it once Martin started cooking.
“What changed was Remy Martin started hitting shots,” Jones admitted. “We can’t keep the zone as tight, and now we have to go out there and guard him. We have to guard the guy at the top of the key, and it opens up the high post, and then they started hurting us.”
Martin’s career-best scoring effort had symmetry: 12 points, 4 assists in the Sun Devils’ big run leading up to halftime, and another 12 during the period that ASU extended their 47-44 lead to 77-65 with 2:16 remaining.
As a freshman last season on an ASU team that was senior-dominated, Martin showed out at Haas Pavilion with 13 points, three assists in 18 minutes off the bench in the Sun Devils 81-73 win. This season, Martin still comes off the bench despite being more experienced than his teammates who start. But the speedy playmaker hasn’t complained. Instead he’s embraced the role and perfected it.
With ASU in the midst their first half run, Martin whipped a pass to a cutting Zylan Cheatham for a dunk, a pass thrown with so much force, the point guard came out of his shoe. The video replay shows the unaffected Martin putting his shoe back on at the moment Cheatham finishes the play at the rim.
“I’m here to help the team win whether I’m starting or coming off the bench,” Martin said. “I’m the same guy and I’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
What was best, was also fast and decisive, as the Bears found out Wednesday. In a rare, statistical seismic shift, the shooting percentages for both teams changed dramatically after halftime. Cal shot 43.3 percent in the first half, 31.8 percent in the second, while ASU skewed more dramatically. The Sun Devils were 39.4 percent before the break, and 57.7 percent after, and get this.. they went the final eight minutes of the game without being discredited with a missed shot. All that pace and execution to end it, after all the missed shots in the initial minutes of the game.
Matt Bradley was inserted into the starting lineup for second straight game, and scored in double figures for the third straight game. The freshman guard led Cal with 19 points, Darius McNeill added 16. Bradley also summed up the tale of two halves.
“The second half, they started knocking down shots. Once they spread us out, they got the bigs going down low. They played a lot harder and a lot more aggressively,” Bradley said.
The Bears host the Arizona Wildcats Saturday at 7:30 pm.