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Saturday, February 2, 2013 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.

Next for Husky men is Pac-12's surprise team, Arizona State

By Percy Allen
Seattle Times staff reporter

Lorenzo Romar's eyes lit up when asked about Arizona State redshirt freshman Jahii Carson.

"Isaiah Thomas with Nate Robinson's athleticism," the Washington men's basketball coach said.

Romar studied video of ASU's 63-59 victory over Washington State. He marveled over Carson, who scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half.

If the Huskies didn't have to face the dazzling 5-foot-10 point guard at 6 p.m. Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena, Romar said he might have enjoyed watching Carson against the Cougars.

As it is, Washington (12-9, 4-4 Pac-12) has to set aside the disappointment from Thursday's 57-53 defeat to No. 8 Arizona and prepare for Arizona State (17-4, 6-2), the biggest surprise in the conference.

Last season, the Sun Devils lost 21 games and finished 10th in a year clouded with controversies.

Leading scorer Keala King was dismissed from the team following a series of disciplinary issues. Second-leading scorer Trent Lockett transferred to Marquette after the season, and fourth-leading scorer Kyle Cain left for UNC-Greensboro.

Making matters worse, ASU assistant coach Scott Pera departed for Penn and another assistant, Lamont Smith, joined Washington's coaching staff in August.

In the wake of the defections, two losing seasons and a four-year NCAA tournament drought, many believed coach Herb Sendek was on the hot seat when the season began, and few expected much from the Sun Devils.

Picked 11th in a preseason media poll, ASU didn't garner much attention after plowing through a relatively easy nonconference schedule.

Skepticism remained after a 3-0 Pac-12 start that included a 55-54 overtime win over Utah was followed by losses to Oregon and Arizona.

But the Sun Devils have rattled off another three-game winning streak in the conference and they're tied for second in the league standings with Arizona at 6-2.

"The guys have done a good job of coming together and working hard," Sendek said. "This is a different team. A different season, as it is for everybody."

In his 20th season — seventh at Arizona State — Sendek scrapped his trademark matchup zone for a man-to-man defense. The Sun Devils used to be a halfcourt-oriented team, but this season they're running, gunning and averaging 72.8 points, which is 12 more than last season.

Carson, who sat out last season because the NCAA ruled he was academically ineligible, was the impetus to the change.

The brash point guard is putting together an MVP-caliber résumé. He's averaging 17.6 points, which ranks fifth in the Pac-12. He's second in the league with 5.3 assists and first with 36.5 minutes.

While Carson is starting to get national notoriety — he's a candidate to win awards given to the country's top freshman and point guard — senior wing Carrick Felix and junior center Jordan Bachynski have also developed into stars.

Felix picked up his second Pac-12 player-of-the-week honor Monday. He's the only repeat winner this season.

Meanwhile, Bachynski recorded the first triple-double in Arizona State history when he finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks in an 87-76 win over Cal-State Northridge in December.

The collection of Carson, Felix, Bachynski, Liberty transfer Evan Gordon, who averages 11.2 points, and sophomore sharpshooter Jonathan Gilling gives the Sun Devils their most talented lineup since James Harden led ASU to the NCAA tournament in 2009.

"I've always respected Herb Sendek's ability to coach basketball in all types of different situations," Romar said. "I think he's kind of shown everybody what he can do this year."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @percyallen

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