ASU basketball amped up leading into showdown vs. Arizona
It’s always a big game when the Arizona Wildcats travel north to face the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells Fargo Arena.
Thursday’s game, at least for the Sun Devils, is bigger than usual.
The Wildcats (20-6) come into the contest ranked 17th in the nation and comfortably in first place in the Pac-12 standings at 10-3 — two full games ahead of UCLA and USC.
The Sun Devils (19-6) are back in the Associated Press top 25 after earning a sweep of the Los Angeles schools last week and seem to be playing with similar style to the nonconference portion of their schedule, during which they went 12-0 and rose as high as No. 3 in the national rankings.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley knows his team recognizes the importance of this game.
“I know that from an emotional standpoint, and passion and being excited to play, that the guys will have all of that, so I don’t need to coach effort this week,” Hurley told Doug & Wolf Wednesday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “We’ve had some rough practices too. Guys are going after it pretty hard.
“You could tell that this game was coming up.”
Related: Hurley’s five losses against Arizona
Following last weekend’s sweep, the first for ASU in Pac-12 in the coach’s three seasons, Hurley is encouraged with what he’s seeing from his team.
“I think our activity and action was there on defense — deflections, steals — especially in the USC game,” Hurley said. “We generated 18 turnovers in that game, so even though we didn’t shoot great from three or the foul line in that game, we were plus-12 in the turnover margin.”
Hurley also pointed to his team’s resilience against USC, fighting through rough patches to stay in the game last Thursday before closing it out with a 9-0 run over the last 2:11. The stretch included a big three from Shannon Evans to tie it and Tra Holder’s game-winning floater with one second left.
The momentum carried over into the UCLA game Saturday, where the Sun Devils were carried by their three senior perimeter players — Evans, Holder and Kodi Justice — and got strong contributions from freshman small forward Kimani Lawrence, who scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and added three steals off the bench.
Hurley knows the Sun Devils not only need execution but a full team’s worth of contributions to stop Arizona.
“They’re every bit the opponent that we saw at Kansas or Xavier or any of the elite teams we played. It’s going to come down to execution and getting enough guys playing at a high level,” Hurley said. “It’s nothing new for them. They have some of the best talent in the country, at multiple positions.
“I would love to see Sean Miller on a short prep and not with this much time to get ready for this game.”
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