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Coach Bobby Hurley making changes to keep ASU out of foul trouble

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley argues with an official in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Utah, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Over Arizona State’s final three nonconference games, the Sun Devils averaged 18 personal fouls per game. They did not commit more than 20 against Pacific, Longwood and Vanderbilt.

Over their five best nonconference wins against Kansas, Xavier, St. John’s and Kansas State, they’d also never committed more than 20, averaging 17.2 fouls per game.

But once Pac-12 play hit, the numbers jumped. Bobby Hurley’s team averaged 26 fouls per game in its first three Pac-12 games: losses to Arizona and Colorado, plus a win over Utah.

“I don’t know if the guys are upset they didn’t get a good Christmas gift or something, and maybe since we’re past Christmas we’ve been fouling more regularly,” Hurley told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I don’t know. I don’t feel like we’re defending a whole lot different than we were prior.”

Hurley knows he needs a fix.

And he knows criticizing officials is not the answer.

ASU was lucky to drop Utah, 80-77, on Sunday despite losing three players who fouled out and racking up 31 personals for the game. The coach is conscious that how he regulates personal fouls in practice will be a point of emphasis moving foward.

For a Sun Devil team that thrives in transition, the quick whistles have stymied the offensive flow that previously snowballed into blowouts against ranked opponents like Xavier and Kansas. Add in a shooting slump and more zone defenses testing that shooting, and ASU has gotten away from the attacking identity that made it one of the best teams at getting to the line.

“When the game is very choppy and there’s a lot of whistles, it’s hard for us to perform at the level that we have in some other games,” Hurley told Doug & Wolf on Wednesday. “We have to play without fouling and make sure we’re focusing on all the points of emphasis.

“That’s something that I’m going to pay attention to a little more as we defend on the practice floor to not allow as much contact to go. You want your practices to be real competitive and physical so that you’re mentally ready for a tough game, but you got to, I guess, strike a balance to get guys not to foul.”

Hurley is being proactive in his approach to fix ASU’s foul trouble.

After criticizing the officiating following the Colorado game, the Pac-12 reprimanded Hurley, who accepted the punishment but now is seeking answers to protect his players.

“I understand why I was given that,” Hurley said of the warning. “There are ways that I can get my points across, whether it’s sending an edit to our head of officials and asking for a review of plays that I don’t feel are legitimate, which I did and I have done. I just got to be careful about not directly talking about officiating. It was fair, what happened there.”

Listen live to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Thursday when ASU hosts the Oregon Ducks at 8 p.m.

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