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Arizona State hopes to extend season into March Madness with run in Pac-12 Tournament

The Sun Devils face Oregon State in their first-round matchup on Wednesday.

LAS VEGAS — The Arizona State men’s basketball team is hungry for the opportunity to play in March Madness. The Sun Devils know what they have to do to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament: win four games in four days to be crowned Pac-12 Tournament Champions at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

ASU closed out the regular season with a big win over rival Arizona in Tucson, but the Sun Devils lost their final two regular season games in Los Angeles against USC and UCLA. The losses dropped the Sun Devils to the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament and they will face No. 11 Oregon State in their first game on Wednesday night. ASU is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, currently considered one of the “First Four Out” teams heading into their conference tournament.

“We're really focused. We're just trying to value every possession,” ASU guard Desmond Cambridge told 12News in a one-on-one interview on Tuesday. “Everyone's going to be tired. Any of the teams that make it to the end here, everyone just played the same amount of games, or maybe one less. But we have that focus and have the resiliency to battle against adversity.”

Resiliency, toughness, composure, and focus. That’s what Cambridge Jr. said it’s going to take for the Sun Devils to hoist the conference tournament championship trophy on Saturday night. Cambridge Jr. wasn’t on last year’s ASU team that was one-and-done in the Pac-12 Tournament after losing to Stanford at the buzzer. The fifth-year guard has played a key role in ASU’s success this season, but his most memorable moment, now dubbed ‘The Miracle at McKale’ or ‘The McKale Mary’, made him a trending topic on social media. ASU went 11-9 in conference play with three of those games decided by five points or less. Head coach Bobby Hurley and his Sun Devils have shown they can battle back from double-digit deficits and while Cambridge Jr. practices his half-court shots, he’d rather not have to make one to keep their season alive in tournament play.

“The confidence that we have as a team builds over practice and over the season. But we definitely don't want to put ourselves in those situations,” Cambridge Jr. said. “I'm gonna play to the end. I just finished shooting half-court shots with my brother [Devan]. Just having that confidence, that's everything because the game's not over until it’s over.”

ASU’s surprisingly hot start to the 2022-2023 season, with wins over VCU, Michigan, and Creighton, thrust the Sun Devils into the AP Top 25 Poll in late December. A stunning loss at San Francisco knocked ASU out of the rankings the following week and the Sun Devils have been on the outside looking in ever sense. The Sun Devils hit a four-game losing skid against conference opponents in January but managed to sweep both Oregon State and Stanford in the regular season. The Beavers and the Cardinal are on ASU’s side of the Pac-12 Tournament bracket, along with USC and Arizona.

But Wednesday marks the beginning of a new season for the Sun Devils, a season they hope to extend beyond Selection Sunday. Anything can happen in March when it comes to college hoops, but Cambridge Jr. hopes he can cap his last season of eligibility with a spot in the Big Dance.

“It would literally mean the world to me. This my last my last year in college. I've never been to the NCAA tournament. I barely got to play in a conference tournament my first two years at Brown University because they didn't have one. So, this is even fun for me just playing in this,” Cambridge Jr. said. “But if we win this, that would also mean we're going to the tournament. That's my that's literally my biggest dream. My mom, dad, grandparents, a bunch of families are out here. A bunch of fans as well. We're getting a lot of love in the hotels and just seeing people on The Strip. So, the love? I feel it here.”

Hurley led the Sun Devils to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019. Last year’s one-point loss in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament doesn’t sit with him or many of the players on this season’s team but the sense of urgency can be felt among the group. Hurley’s hard-nose approach as a player and coach has been adopted by this group at ASU and they’re pushing all their chips to the center of the table in Vegas.

“He's been straight up with us and told us it's not gonna be easy and that's what we need to hear,” Cambridge Jr. said of Hurley. “We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds in our last couple games and I feel like that's a big reason why we didn't come out on top. Simple things like that, you know, all the little things are going to make the difference in the tournament.”

No. 6 Arizona State and No. 11 Oregon State tip off at 9:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.

Follow the conversation with Lina Washington on Twitter: @LWashingtonTV. If you have a sports story idea, e-mail Lina at LWashington@12News.com.

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