Arizona State searching for another win


Arizona State searching for another win

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) After Arizona State lost to UCLA two weeks ago, coach Todd Graham was adamant that this year's team was nothing like the one that went into a tailspin last season.

Even after the Sun Devils' losing streak reached three with a road loss to Oregon State on Saturday, Graham still believes a repeat of 2011 isn't on the way.

Confident as the coach might be, the first-year coach also understands the reality of the Sun Devils' situation: with just three games left and one of the nation's most prolific offenses up next, they're running out of time.

``We've just got to win a game,'' Graham said on Monday.

The Graham era in the desert certainly got off to a flying start, the wins coming quickly and easily.

But after opening 5-1, the Sun Devils were blown out by No. 2 Oregon and followed with a 45-43 home loss to UCLA.

Hoping to get back on track against Oregon State, Arizona State instead got in its own way, plagued by too many mental mistakes, a rare so-so game by quarterback Taylor Kelly and a difficult day on special teams to lose 36-26 to the 13th-ranked Beavers.

So far, this season is looking - at least on paper - an awful lot like last year, when Arizona State opened 5-1, was blown out by Oregon and closed with five straight losses.

The Sun Devils (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) have only lost three straight at this point and seem to have a much better demeanor, not to mention confidence, than a season ago, so it's not exactly the same situation.

Still, the season is winding down and Arizona State has just three more chances to win a sixth game: at No. 21 Southern California, at home against Washington State and a season finale against rival Arizona.

Challenging? Certainly, but more opportunity than burden in Graham's mind.

``They've had plenty of opportunities the past three weeks to implode or take a step backward and they haven't done that,'' Graham said. ``The season's still not over. We've got three games left to play.''

The past three games were not easy.

Oregon, like it has almost every opponent this season, stomped the Sun Devils from the start on its way to a 43-21 win on Oct. 18.

The last two games, Arizona State had its chances.

Against UCLA, the Sun Devils had their best offensive game of the season, rolling up 486 yards as Kelly threw for four touchdowns. Problem was, Arizona State's defense couldn't stop the Bruins, allowing them to score 45 points and drive for the winning score in the final 93 seconds.

Arizona State followed its best offensive game with one of its worst, unable to get anything going against Oregon State's defense in the second half while Kelly labored all day, hitting 22 of 41 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown with an interception.

``You have to give the opponent some credit,'' Graham said. ``We played three really good football teams the last three weeks.''

Tough as the opponents may have been, the Sun Devils lost all three and that's all that really matters to a fickle fan base.

Arizona State has struggled at times to gain a foothold in the crowded Phoenix sports market, in part because there are so many competitors for fans' dollars, but also because there are so many other activities available, from year-round golf to hiking and biking.

Now that the blistering heat of the summer has been replaced by mild temperatures, the draw to go outside is even stronger.

Graham did a superb job of attracting attention to the football program, both when he first arrived and through the early-and-successful part of the season.

That support could wane quickly if the Sun Devils keep losing.

``This a great place and we're obviously just getting started here,'' Graham said. ``We've obviously had three tough weeks, but let's get to the end of the season and evaluate where we're at. Just don't give up on us.''

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Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

USA Today Sports

Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura was introduced to the sport of basketball at 13 years old after spending his childhood on the baseball diamond, emulating Ichiro Suzuki, as many kids in Japan do. Just eight years later, Hachimura has charted his own path as the first Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA after the Washington Wizards drafted him at No. 9 overall.

That trajectory is important to note when considering Hachimura's age. He is 21 years old, which is on the older side for an NBA draft prospect in the age of one-and-dones. But, you could say he's only eight in basketball years.

That's not a technical term used by NBA front office executives, but the fact Hachimura is a "late bloomer" was one of the biggest selling points for the Wizards. That's how interim team president Tommy Sheppard described him on several occasions the night of the draft and the day after. And even majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced it when asked about the pick in an interview with the Washington Times over the weekend.

While reason may suggest a younger player has higher upside, the Wizards are looking beyond simple age. In Hachimura, they believe they have a player who could benefit from not having the year-round strain of AAU basketball in his past.

"When you come to the game a little bit later, maybe you don't have some bad habits that you accumulate. You don't have a lot of extra miles," Sheppard said. 

"Those kinds of things resonate with us. You have to be healthy to play in the NBA, and there are so many players in this particular draft that for whatever reason, there are a lot of sad faces tonight because I think medical held a lot of people back. He has a clean bill of health, and that's exciting to us."

Sheppard could have been referencing any number of prospects who carried the label as an injury risk into draft night. With the ninth overall pick, the Wizards took Hachimura over Duke's Cam Reddish, who has several red flags, injuries among them. In the second round, they passed on Oregon's Bol Bol, who had a stress fracture in his foot, in favor of Admiral Schofield.

But health isn't the only potential benefit of picking up the game at a later age. Sheppard alluded to the development of bad habits. He thinks Hachimura is more of a blank canvas for the coaching staff and that could work in their favor long-term.

Sheppard made a comparison for Hachimura that was interesting for several reasons.

"With [Raptors forward] Pascal Siakam, you see what happens when guys come to the game a little late and what he was able to do. It's not the same, but if you ask me of someone who's story his reminds me of, it could remind you of something like that," Sheppard said.

Siakam's name was invoked over and over during the pre-draft process but more often to draw a parallel for Sekou Doumbouya of France. Sheppard was more so comparing the development track for Hachimura than the playing style, but it holds some weight.

There have been some famous cases of late bloomers in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Joel Embiid reportedly didn't start playing basketball until high school.

Duncan may be a good example of avoiding bad habits, as he is considered one of the most fundamentally sound players of all time. Olajuwon might be the most skilled big man in NBA history, and Embiid has a chance to become an all-time great.

What gives the Wizards hope that Hachimura will reach his potential and someday enjoy breakout success like Siakam has is his work ethic. The Wizards did deep background research on Hachimura, including through discussions with his college coach, Mark Few of Gonzaga.

They believe they found something in Hachimura that other teams may have overlooked.

"The things that you hope for and that you're optimistic about, they seem to be there. So, we're excited about that," Sheppard said. "It's really up to Rui and how bad do you want to be good?"


US in the World Cup quarterfinals after 2-1 win over Spain

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US in the World Cup quarterfinals after 2-1 win over Spain

REIMS, France -- Megan Rapinoe converted a pair of penalty kicks and the United States set up a much-anticipated quarterfinal meeting with host France at the Women's World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Spain on Monday.

Rapinoe's first came in the seventh minute to the cheers of the U.S. supporters melting in temperatures that reached nearly 90 degrees at the Stade Auguste-Delaune. They were quieted a short time later when Jennifer Hermoso tied it up for Spain with the first goal the Americans had allowed in France.

Video review was used to confirm a foul on Rose Lavelle that gave the pink-haired captain the game-winner in the 75th minute, spoiling Spain's spirited effort in its first knockout-round appearance at a World Cup.

"That’s World Cup-level grit right there," Rapinoe said on the Fox Sports broadcast. "You can’t replicate it. You can’t teach it. We told each other during the game we needed to go up a level. They (the matches) only get harder and more intense from here. Everybody’s playing for their lives."

The defending champions head to Paris to face France on Friday night. The French defeated Brazil 2-1 in extra time Sunday night, with Amandine Henry scoring the game-winner in the 107th minute.