ASU hoping for repeat performance in Vegas at Pac-12 Tournament
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State men’s basketball team has adopted a new slogan for this week’s Pac-12 Tournament. What happens in Vegas can happen again in Vegas.
The Sun Devils (20-10) burst onto the national scene with wins over Kansas State and current No. 3 Xavier to capture the Las Vegas Invitational title in November. They’re looking for a repeat performance when they face Colorado at T-Mobile Arena at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
“It basically all started in Vegas,” said guard Tra Holder, who was named to the 2018 All-Pac-12 First Team on Monday. “There’s no home crowd. We’re not playing on the road. It’s a neutral court. I like our odds there. We’re in Vegas. We’re in familiar territory. Hopefully, we shoot the ball as well as we did when we were there.”
Ninth-seeded ASU would go a long way toward climbing off the bubble and punching its NCAA Tournament ticket with a win over the eighth-seeded Buffaloes. A loss would mean five losses in its last six games, an RPI rating outside the top 50 and not much of an argument to be made that ASU is any better than the ninth best team in a weak Pac-12.
The win over Xavier and another nonconference win over current No. 9 Kansas may still be enough to get the Devils in the dance, but the palms would be far less sweaty on Selection Sunday with a win over Colorado.
“I just think we’ve done enough this year,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “Obviously, there is going to be debate with teams in a committee room but I feel very comfortable with what we’ve accomplished in our whole body of work and the games we’ve won and beating two conferences champions of major conferences — not only beating them but beating them on neutral sites and on their home court and doing it decisively and almost, in the case of Xavier, where you’re actually not just trying to embarrass them any further in the last two minutes of the game.
“I think when you have wins like that, people know that you can beat the very best teams and I think the NCAA Tournament is built on putting the best teams in the event, teams that are capable of beating the very best teams in the country.”
The adjustments the NCAA Tournament selection committee has made to its process may favor ASU all the more, but Hurley said he still isn’t certain what gets prioritized in that process.
“I think we’re probably one of the best nine seeds in the history of the Pac-12,” he said. “But I do think that we didn’t run through the schedule the way we needed to. Our record should be better. We didn’t get the job done there and that’s on me.”
Holder said the Sun Devils are viewing the postseason as a fresh start after a disappointing Pac-12 season.
“Our record is out the door. I think we’re really eager to win and prove a lot of people wrong; do what we were doing before,” he said. “You hear people say, ‘what happened to them?’ Why are they losing?’ If you look back at the whole season, we won 20 games.”
Holder likes the Devils’ underdog status.
“I think it’s good for us to be underdogs,” he said. “Our whole team is underdogs. Me, Shannon [Evans] and Kodi [Justice] were not really highly recruited. Coach Hurley was an underdog so I think the combination of our team is underdogs and we play better with that little mindset.”
The team was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas on Monday night. Hurley was already working on his pre-tournament speech.
“It’s pretty decent,” he said. “I’ve had some good ones this year, getting ready for tournaments and games. Hopefully this one is on that level. I think it’s pretty good.”
The Sun Devils take on the Buffaloes on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM. If ASU beats Colorado, they will take on the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday at 1:00 p.m. From there, the semifinals would be on Friday at 7:00 p.m. and the final would be on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.