Arizona State bounces back, hands Washington 1st Pac-12 loss
TEMPE, Ariz. — When Arizona State was 15-point favorites against Washington State on Thursday at home and lost by 21, the weekend was going to go one of two ways.
Either they would lose to Pac-12 leaders and undefeated in conference play Washington and make their chances of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid that much harder or pick up another signature win for their case as a bubble team.
They did the latter on Saturday night, defeating the Huskies 75-63 and handing Washington its first Pac-12 loss in arguably their best performance of the season.
“I thought the guys had the right focus tonight,” head coach Bobby Hurley said.
“We really defended to our ability level and what we’re capable of doing in all areas.”
The Sun Devils played a brand of defensive basketball that was envisioned when their roster took shape in the offseason. Despite losing their three best players due to graduation, there was more hype for this Hurley squad because of the athleticism.
They have speed at guard, length on the wing and versatility with the bigs.
In theory, they could switch plenty while also matching up well with just about any type of roster. The issue for the Sun Devils most of the year has been making the basic and complex rotations to maximize their strengths.
They were able to do that Saturday and also show their individual potential as well.
Freshman Luguentz Dort was phenomenal on Washington sophomore guard and leading scorer Jaylen Nowell. Nowell shot 5-of-13 while senior guard David Crisp had issues with Remy Martin’s persistence, posting a 6-for-19 shooting line.
“I thought [Dort’s] defense was as good as I’ve seen a guy guard a player like Nowell that’s not an easy matchup,” Hurley said. “He really did a great job moving his feet and kind of locked him down throughout the game. I thought his individual defense was pretty special.”
The defensive performance was backed up by the turnover numbers and in a way you wouldn’t expect.
Arizona State turned the ball over 24 times and still managed a somewhat comfortable win, a remarkable achievement. That’s because they forced 17 themselves, held Washington to 36.8 percent shooting and were plus-17 on the glass.
Four ASU starters scored in double figures and as the lone one who didn’t, senior Zylan Cheatham added nine rebounds and seven assists. Both Cheatham and Dort turned the ball over six times, but on the other end, Cheatham had two steals and two blocks while Dort added a block and three steals.
Romello White was 8-of-9 from the field for 17 points and eight rebounds.
“He was terrific considering having injured his knee and was very limited yesterday and really had a great game for someone who was coming off an injury,” Hurley said.
As a team, Arizona State shot 61.7 percent, which is particularly hilarious when Hurley revealed he didn’t allow his team to take a shot after practice on Friday.
“Every drill that we did ended in a pass and then no shot,” he said, admitting that the move by himself was a bit childish. Hurley noted the team shot a lot at shootaround on Saturday, calling it not that big of a deal.
“It was a weird way of going about it but it was obviously effective,” Cheatham said, doubling down on calling Hurley a “lunatic.”
After a first half in which ASU led by eight and did well to not let momentum escape its grasp, the Sun Devils went on a 16-6 run to start the second half.
With 8:24 left, ASU was up 14. The game was basically two four-minute halves, and in that first half, ASU could either end the game by holding/maintaining its lead or Washington would creep back into it and make a game of it.
The latter occurred, with some sloppy Sun Devils decisions and smart offense from Washington pulling the Huskies within nine at the 4:26 mark.
The same situation presented itself for the next two-and-half minutes, and this time, ASU effectively ended the game.
The Sun Devils scored on five straight possessions and got two stops on the other end, making it a 14-point advantage with 1:56 to go.
Arizona State now has seven games left in its regular season, five of which are on the road. With that in mind, the win was even bigger.
“We came out and played the way we know we can play,” Cheatham said. “We need to use this game as a building block as opposed to a high point in our season.”
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