TEMPE, Arizona — Arizona State started the Pac-12 season 0-4 and it looked as if a disastrous season lay ahead.
Then the Sun Devils won nine of their remaining 14 games, capped by a 74-70 victory over California on Saturday.
"I don't know that I've ever been part of a team that improved more over the course of a season," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said.
Shaquielle McKissic scored 21 points in his last collegiate home game for the Sun Devils.
"We just didn't give up," he said. "It's not about how you start, but how you finish."
It's been a remarkable turnaround for McKissic, who had a three-month stint in jail for breaking into a home and lived for a time in his car. Then his best friend was shot to death.
Sendek took a chance on the athletic young player searching for redemption. It only got better from there.
"My two years here have been awesome," he said. "It's like nothing I ever experienced in this life. You guys all know my background. ... I had to learn so much, but I loved every second."
The Sun Devils (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) led the entire second half but Cal (17-14, 7-11) cut it to 67-66 on Tyrone Wallace's 3-pointer with 32 seconds to play. Arizona State had missed seven free throws in a row before making 7 of 8 in the final 24 seconds, 3 of 4 by McKissic and 4 of 4 by fellow senior Bo Barnes.
Savon Goodman added 18 points and Gerry Blakes 16 for the Sun Devils. Wallace scored 23 for California in its fifth loss in its last six games.
Cal, coming off a 99-60 drubbing at No. 5 Arizona on Thursday, scored the first nine points of the game.
But after making eight of their first 10 shots, the Bears were 2 for 20 before Sam Singer's four-point play with 36.9 seconds left in the half. Singer sank a 3-pointer and was fouled by Tra Holder, making the free throw to cut Arizona State's lead to 35-32 at the break.
The play halted a 16-4 Arizona State run that put the Sun Devils up 35-28 on McKissic's two free throws with 57 seconds left in the half.
Barnes' 3-pointer started a 7-0 spurt that gave Arizona State a 63-53 lead with 6:35 to play. Cal, though, responded with a 10-2 run and when David Kravish scored inside, ASU led only 65-63 with 1:36 to play. McKissic's driving layup made it 67-63. Wallace followed with his 3.
Down 69-66 after McKissic's two free throws, Cal had a chance to tie it but Jordan Matthews' 3-pointer bounced off the rim.
"That's the play that we scripted and we run in practice," Bears coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought we got the look we wanted but it just didn't go in."
Cal lost four of its last five games.
"We gave ourselves a chance," Martin said. "We just came up short."
California: Cal was assessed a technical foul because the number for Roger Moute a Bidias on the official scoring sheet was different than the one he was wearing. ... As he did at Arizona, David Kravish got in early foul trouble, sitting out the entire half after drawing his second five minutes into the game.
Arizona State: Seniors Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling declined the offer to start in their last home game, saying they wanted to keep the rotation the way it has been, with both coming off the bench. ... Eric Jacobsen had five blocked shots.
California: Plays Wednesday at the Pac-12 tournament.
Arizona State: Plays Wednesday in the Pac-12 tournament.