Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/21/11
TEMPE, Ariz. It was not the three-peat ASU imagined. Preholiday home games against some commoners Northern Arizona, Southern Miss and Fresno State were supposed to serve as a springboard into the Pac-12 season, which begins in Tucson on New Years Eve, not a slap in the face. Instead came three crushing losses, all on 3-pointers in the final minute. Fresno State extended ASUs worst start since 1986-87 when Kevin Olekaibe hit a three with 31 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a 67-65 lead that they built on with a free throw in the final seconds for a 68-65 victory at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday. ASU does not live by the 3-pointer. That was last year. So why does it have to die that way? Northern Arizonass three at the buzzer overcame a one-point deficit and Southern Misss three with eight-tenths of a second left broke a tie, but neither hit ASU as hard as this one. The Sun Devils (4-8) led by 17 points late in the first half, but instead of finishing it off to break a two-game losing streak and gather a bit of momentum instead fell apart. Chase Creekmurs sprained ankle, some foul trouble among the available big men and the loss of center Ruslan Pateev, who was serving a one-game suspension after committing a flagrant foul against Southern Miss, played into it, but ASU coach Herb Sendek was not buying into that. Sendek ripped his team after a lethargic 69-61 loss to Nevada on Dec. 7, and he did it again Wednesday after a nondescript Fresno State team (5-8) outscored the Sun Devils, 42-27, in the second half. Fresno made 15 field goals in the second half, six threes. ASU made seven field goals in the half. Our defense in the second half was despicable. No. 3 (Olebaike) really took us to task, Sendek said. ASU is obviously a flawed team. Point guard Keala King, forced into that position with Jahii Carson's ineligibility and transfer Chris Colvin's tendency to play out of control, can score at the basket but is a reluctant distributor. As a result, not only are Trent Locketts touches limited but also the offense tends to stagnate late, when King controls the ball with the dribble before taking it to the basket. Those flaws were not as evident Wednesday, when King had a career-high 22 points with six rebounds and only two turnovers against Fresno and Lockett had 17 points (making all three 3-point attempts) with six rebounds. Still, he only had seven shots. ASU has committed about 17 turnovers a game, among the worst in NCAA Division 1. Its big men play in spurts and are often in foul trouble. It has two three-game losing streaks and has not won two games in a row all season. It has been a lethal mix for a team that needs just about everything to go right to win, even as it prepares to begin conference play in what has shown to be one of the worst leagues in the nation this season. And so it was again Wednesday. Olebaike had 30 points, 21 in the second half and made 6 of 10 3-pointers, the latest in a string of backcourt players to expose ASUs inability to contain on the perimeter, either in its matchup zone or in the man-to-man it has used with more frequency this season. NAU guard Stallon Saldivar had 24 points and the game-winning three, one his six threes. Nevada guard Deonte Burton had 28 points and three threes. Its not about an adjustment. Its about playing with passion and energy, Sendek said. Its about executing fundamentals. Its about concentrating. Its not schematics. I dont see the kind of progress that I expect and want to see. I apologize to the Sun Devil fans for what I watched in the second half today. ASU is 0-2 against the WAC, 0-1 against the West Coast Conference and 0-1 against the Metro Atlantic. The biggest thing is that our energy was not where we needed it to be, said Lockett, echoing a season-long concern. That is pretty unacceptable. We just came up flat in the second half. Everybody is going to have a tough couple of days to sit back and regroup. The only thing we can do is come back as a team, continue to fight, and hopefully go down to U of A and make an impact. Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter
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