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Hurley has ‘high expectations’ for starters, excited for tough stretch

Arizona State guard Torian Graham reacts after a play in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Seattle. Graham had 29 points as Arizona State beat Washington 83-81. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
LISTEN: Bobby Hurley, ASU men's basketball coach

With eight minutes left in Arizona State’s tight battle against the Washington Huskies Thursday, senior guard Torian Graham told head coach Bobby Hurley he was tired.

“No, you’re not,” Hurley responded.

Graham stayed in the game and led the Sun Devils to an 83-81 victory by scoring 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting in 39 minutes of action.

This story, which Hurley recounted on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM‘s Doug and Wolf Wednesday, shows that fatigue is inevitable for an Arizona State team that features five players logging more than 30 minutes per game this season.

Hurley reiterated the fact that his starters will need to continue to shoulder the load in a major way as the season winds down.

“I expect a lot from my players,” he said. “And, believe me, after the year I’m gonna praise these guys for how they battled. The five starters and the minutes they’ve played. What we’ve asked them to do in terms of rebounding and post defense for guys that are 6-2 to 6-5.”

Junior guard Shannon Evans leads the team with 35.3 minutes per game, but junior guard Tra Holder (34.9), Graham (34.2), senior forward Obinna Oleka (32.1) and junior guard Kodi Justice (30.1) are not that far behind.

Hurley doesn’t blame fatigue for his team’s 5-9 record since the start of the new year.

“I don’t attribute all of it to that,” he said. “I think that the guys, at this point, have been playing those minutes for a fair amount of time now.”

The Sun Devils coach is nonetheless excited about the chance to become bigger and deeper next season.

“We have some help on the way,” Hurley said. “Our frontcourt is gonna get better. It’s gonna get more experience. I have a lot of hope that that’s gonna improve, but, in the meantime, that’s not gonna change, so I just have high expectations for them.”

The returns of freshman forward Romello White after an academic redshirt and freshman forward Vitaliy Shibel from a torn ACL, along with the maturation of freshman centers Jethro Tshisumpa and Ramon Vila, look bolster the Sun Devils’ front line, as they all measure in at 6-foot-8 or taller.

Before looking onto next season, however, the 13-15 (6-9 in Pac-12) Sun Devils will have to finish this regular season off with a tough trifecta of games, including matchups against two of the top five teams in the country.

“These games are great for us,” Hurley said. “I think they’re exciting for the program. They’re the type of games you want to be involved in. And they’re certainly gonna get us ready for the highest level of competition in the Pac-12 tournament. We will have played UCLA, USC and Arizona heading into Pac-12 (Tournament) so we’ll be battle-tested for sure going into the Pac-12 Tournament.”

The two teams from Southern California will be coming to Tempe this week, as the No. 5 Bruins visit on Thursday, followed by the Trojans on Sunday. A home matchup against No. 4 Arizona will take place a week from Saturday.

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