PHOENIX – When Arizona State men’s basketball guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. elevated for a desperation shot against the Arizona Wildcats Feb. 25, hope of a March Madness bid felt all but lost.
And yet, as if out of a scene from an “Angels in the Outfield” basketball spin-off, Cambridge’s prayer was answered by hitting nothing but net to win the game.
It was a moment the Sun Devils hope can fuel them to a successful run in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, which gets underway Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. ASU opens with Oregon State at 9:30 p.m., Arizona time. The Arizona Wildcats have a first-round bye and will face the winner of Utah-Stanford Thursday.
“We’re going to go all in (this week),” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “I think this team deserves to play in the NCAA tournament and we’re going to fight like heck.”
Fighting like heck is exactly what Cambridge did with his successful beyond-half-court shot against the Wildcats.
“That was definitely the craziest experience, the best game I have ever been a part of,” he said after the 89-88 victory in Tucson. “To do it against a team like Arizona, especially with our backs up against the wall … I think this is good for us and gives us motivation.”
For the Wildcats, it was like driving a box truck over a small rock in the road; noticeable in the moment but with no foreseeable damage and easy to get past.
“Maybe it impacts things a little bit here and there, but not enough to matter,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said after the game. “I’ve already moved on.”
For the Sun Devils, it reopened their case to be considered one of the 68 teams eligible for a national championship, a case they could have further solidified with a win in either of their final two matchups of the regular season.
Unfortunately for ASU, it came up short both games, including a three-point loss to USC on Saturday.
Cambridge Jr., who made the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball All-Conference second team, shot a combined 4 for 23, including missing a potential game-winner Saturday.
Hurley said Tuesday that Cambridge has come up big for his team time and time again and is eager to get back to helping them win.
“I think he wants to make amends (for his recent struggles),” Hurley said. “He looked very focused. He wants to win. He understands the importance of winning and what we’ve done as a team this year.
“We’ve got to win. … He’s going to do his part to help us try and get there.”
“These guys have put together a really good season and deserve to play in the postseason,” Hurley said.
The tournament is filled with intriguing storylines.
Will frontrunner UCLA be without Jaylen Clark, who hurt his leg during the Bruins’ last regular season game? Can Arizona help its NCAA tournament seeding? And how does the selection committee view the Pac-12, which is important for teams including ASU, which hopes to hear it’s name called on Sunday.