- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Jahii Carson returned to Arizona State for a chance to lead the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

After some sketchy moments at the end of the season, the Sun Devils got an invite on Selection Sunday and will open the NCAA tournament against Texas on Thursday in Milwaukee as the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region.

Now that the door has been opened, Carson and his teammates want to barge through.

“Anything can happen now,” said Carson, Arizona State’s sophomore point guard. “We’re in there.”

They’re there, but will need to play a little better to keep it from being a short trip.

Arizona State (21-11) managed to tie for third in the Pac-12 at 10-8, but limped to the finish. The Sun Devils lost five of their final seven games, including the last three.

A big problem was getting off to slow starts.

The Sun Devils fell behind 15-0 to Oregon, 9-1 to Oregon State and 9-1 to Stanford in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, a string of losses that made Selection Sunday a little more nerve-wracking than it should have been.

Now they get a fresh start.

“Everybody has a sense of rebirth going into the tournament,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “I don’t think the games that were most recently played necessarily carry over. I’ve done it long enough to see so many stark examples of that.”

Had they played a little better down the stretch, the Sun Devils might have gotten a better seed and an easier opening game.

Instead, they get the Longhorns (23-10), a long, athletic team that’s relentless on the offensive glass, averaging 15.1 offensive rebounds per game.

But, like Arizona State, Texas struggled late in the season, losing five of eight, including a 17-point setback to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament.

If the Sun Devils manage to get past the Longhorns, they still have a tough road ahead, with a potential matchup against No. 2 seed Michigan in their next game and a bracket that includes Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and undefeated Wichita State.

“We have to prepare well, then when the game comes, we’re going to have to play together and hopefully play our best,” Sendek said. “I don’t think we’ve necessarily played our best lately, but we’ve played very good teams.”

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