Ask Bobby Hurley, the Arizona State men’s basketball coach, and he’ll tell you that with 11 games left in the regular season, it’s too early to start thinking about who’s in the NCAA postseason or not. A week ago, the Sun Devils were “in” according to most projections. But after being swept home from Los Angeles schools, they seem to have worked their way out, or at least are on the bubble — for now.
Hurley doesn’t necessarily believe that because he thinks his team still put in admirable performances for the rest of the season. He’s signed off on social media to ensure he’s less tempted to see who’s saying what.
“It makes me bury my head in the sand and figure out how to win game after game,” he said. “I’ve done a deeper dive, the blue heavyweights out there who are maybe 13-7 or 14-6 and there are a lot of big names that are kind of in our wheelhouse with overall record and in conference play. We definitely need to keep winning games and we’re trying to do that. Look at those names, look at their records, and then someone can come over and try to tell me we’re not having a good season.
The Sun Devils (15-5, 6-3) have a chance to advance their cause this week but face the ever-tough challenge of winning Pac-12 games away from home. Not that they couldn’t. Ahead of the disappointing home week, ASU won two street contests against the Oregon schools, the first time they’d swept those two down the street in 13 years.
Now it’s back to the Pacific Northwest, this time to Washington state. First up is a game in Washington (12-9, 4-6) on Thursday at 9 p.m. Then there’s a contest in Washington State at 6 p.m. Saturday (9-12, 4-6). Both games will be broadcast on ESPNU.
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Every game is vital, especially with such a close conference rating. No. 8 UCLA (17-3, 8-1) leads the pile, with Utah (14-7, 7-3) a game in the winning column ahead of ASU. No. 6 Arizona (17-3, 6-3) and USC (14-6, 6-3) are third.
Washington schools are tied for eighth place.
While the Sun Devils struggled before falling short against UCLA 74-62, they came up flat in the next game with a 77-69 loss to USC. Hurley said he didn’t beat his team in the last game simply because it was more of an anomaly and not what he’d seen his team do in the last 19 games.
“I’ve resisted the temptation to go back to some of my old tactics that I might have used in my younger years as a coach when you’ve got a side that haven’t played with the proper energy in defense and have struggled on that end ground,” he said. “Usually when that happens I freak out and I would treat the guys mentally hard with the film and then a very physical track exercise style workout.
“Those games were emotionally and physically demanding. The team has performed well this season by a wide margin, so I thought that was the best way to go. We’ve woken up with a lot better energy the last two days, so I’m feeling good with what we are doing.”
The Sun Devils defeated both Washington teams earlier this month in Tempe. ASU repelled Washington State 77-71 and defeated Washington 73-65 in a game that wasn’t that close. It led 70-50 with 2:58 left.
Washington traditionally plays a zone defense, and at times it took the Sun Devils half an hour to adjust. Despite convincingly winning the last meeting, they only led this game 28-26 at halftime.
Hurley added that the best way to counter that is to attack and get the ball on the court before defense can field, which his team prefers anyway.
Devan Cambridge had 18 points the last time the Sun Devils played Washington. Most of these came from dunks that moved the Sun Devils in transition. Three others also finished in double digits.
The last time ASU played Washington State, it was senior forward Warren Washington with the big game — 18 points in a 9-for-10 performance from the field. He also did an excellent job defending the Cougars’ Mouhamed Gueye, who had just nine points from eight field goal attempts and three free throw attempts.
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It was different players on different nights, a big reason why the individual numbers don’t pop out immediately. Four players average in double digits, with Desmond Cambridge Jr. with a team-best 13.2, followed by DJ Horne (11.6), Devan Cambridge (10.5 ppg) and Frankie Collins (10.4 ppg). Washington is just under 8.9 with a team-leading 7.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
“We were a balanced team so we have to get the guys to contribute and play well. That was our identity on offense,” Hurley said. “We had the most success this year when we moved the basketball very well and shared it and got out in the open court. So much will depend on how we defend. If we allow teams to shoot 50 percent Like the last two teams, we will fight to win. When we generate stops, taking the stopping pressure off our offense because our defense is working, we usually get into a pretty good offensive flow.