February 22, 2010 | 8:11am
Picked by pre-season pundits to finish seventh, the Arizona State Sun Devils improbably moved into a virtual first-place tie with Cal on Sunday afternoon, as the Pac-10 men's basketball into the homestretch.
ASU beat the fading Arizona Wildcats 73-69 in an especially intense game yesterday afternoon down in Tucson that wasn't decided until the final few minutes.
Much was on the line in this one other than traditional bragging rights.
With the league-leading California Golden Bears already with five losses in the topsy-turvy league, the Sun Devils had an opportunity to pull into a tie for first with a win (technically, ASU is a half-game behind, as Cal has played one more contest this season).
At the same time, the Wildcats would have been just one game out of first if they could have held home court.
But the Devils had Ty Abbott on their side, and the shooting guard was the best player on the court Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the loss ensured that Arizona will have to win the Pac-10 postseason tournament in Los Angeles in a few weeks to continue its amazing streak of 25 straight NCAA tournaments.
Hell, at this point the Cats aren't even a sure shot to get a berth in the second-fiddle National Invitational Tournament. How the once-mighty have fallen.
But who knows what's gonna happen?
Most sports analysts are saying that just one of the 10 Pac-10 teams will emerge with a coveted spot in the 65-team March Madness event -- the automatic bid that goes to the winner of the postseason tourney at LA's Staples Center.
We have attended the Pac-10 tourney each of the last four years, and it's always a beaut, but this time around it promises to be especially meaningful.
Each of the nine participating teams (USC, which would have contended for the crown, is banned from postseason play this year for being very, very naughty
) has a chance to win the thing.
Kudos to ASU's Ty Abbott.
He has come a long way since his days at Phoenix Desert Vista High School, where we saw him play a few times. Figured he'd be a decent lower Division I player for someone.
Abbott has blossomed into much more than that.
The dude has a sweet shot, and is playing with extreme confidence.