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ASU’s postseason fate is in its own hands this weekend

Oregon's Payton Pritchard, left, and Arizona State's Kimani Lawrence and Remy Martin, right, go the floor after a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Bobby Hurley has a simple goal for the Arizona State men’s basketball team in its final two-game set of the regular season.

“I just hope we finish it the way these guys deserve to have the season finished,” the Sun Devils coach said Wednesday. “I just want us to be ourselves and to play freely, to attack, to turn it loose on the floor.”

The Sun Devils (19-9, 7-9 Pac-12) may need to on Thursday against Cal and Saturday against Stanford at Wells Fargo Arena. Although CBS’ Jerry Palm projects the Devils as a No. 8 seed, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them on the bubble and Palm cautioned that the Devils are far from secure.

“This would be a bad time for a six-game losing streak,” Palm said. “They might get in anyway, but it would be a nervous Selection Sunday. Losing five of six isn’t much better.”

The Devils have lost three straight heading into this weekend’s series. No matter what they do this weekend, they can climb no higher than the No. 8 seed for the Pac-12 Tournament next week at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, meaning a less than favorable draw.

They have fallen to No. 42 in the latest RPI rankings, too close for comfort with the group of other Pac-12 bubble teams that are all sitting ahead of ASU in the conference standings, not to mention other bubble teams.

“It’s a big week for us. We know that,” senior guard Shannon Evans said. “Any win around this time of year is critical. At the end of the day, we’re trying to win two basketball games.”

Stringing wins together has been a struggle for ASU since Pac-12 play began. They have only done it once, winning three straight from Feb. 4-10 — a streak that included an impressive sweep of the Los Angeles schools and led some to believe or hope the Sun Devils had regained the nonconference form that led to a 12-0 start.

Since then, ASU hasn’t won, leading Hurley to ease up on the physical practices to keep his team as fresh as possible for the critical games ahead.

“I was concerned about that after [a loss at] Oregon State because I wasn’t thrilled with the way things were going after that game and the way we played,” Hurley said. “I like the spirit, the mindset of our team right now.”

Adding to the anxiety this weekend is the reality that these are the final home games for transformational seniors Tra Holder, Evans and Kodi Justice.

“I try not to think that this is it because I feel like we have a lot more basketball still to play,” Justice said. “It’s going to be cool to celebrate with my family and my friends and my teammates, coaching staff. That’s going to be the fun part but it’s not the end yet.”

Hurley was doing his best lobbying to the NCAA Selection committee on Wednesday, and the Devils have some impressive bullet points.

“When you win the type of games we won, it kind of cements your position regardless of what seed line you’re on,” he said. “There may not be another team in NCAA basketball that has beaten two No. 1 seeds currently on neutral [sites] or on the road.

“We’ve done more than just Kansas and Xavier, sweeping the L.A. schools, winning at Utah, which is a very difficult place to play.”

The Sun Devils would ease a lot of minds if they swept this home series and went into the conference tournament with a head of steam. They’ll be playing postseason basketball no matter what, but the NIT would be no consolation prize. It would be a disappointment given the way this season began.

“I have no desire to see it end any time soon and neither do these guys,” Hurley said. “That’s the signs I’m getting on the practice floor leading into these games.”

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