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Focus on minor details has ASU men’s basketball climbing Pac-12 race

Arizona State's Alonzo Verge (11) shoots a free throw against UCLA during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

In Arizona State men’s basketball’s most recent loss, a 67-65 defeat to Washington State on Jan. 29, the Sun Devils went 8-for-15 from the free throw line.

Over its next three games, ASU made a total of 55 free throws. Uncoincidentally, it won all three.

Focusing on small details like free throws and getting 50-50 balls has helped the Sun Devils put together its mini-win streak, head coach Bobby Hurley said on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf on Wednesday.

“We talked a lot about details after the Washington State game,” Hurley said. “Really did some soul searching about figuring out the blueprints of success. I know that’s cliché-ish, but just trying to not do more than what we’re capable of doing out there.”

Over the first seven games of conference play, ASU shot 61.6% from the free throw line.

Since that Washington State loss, the Sun Devils have shot 78.6% from the line. They made 27 of 33 free throws in the four-point Washington win. Against USC, the Sun Devils only made one field goal in the final 11 minutes, but by making 16 of 20 free throws in the game they hung in offensively and got the comeback win.

“It was very difficult for anybody to score,” Hurley said. “Down the stretch in that game we, as a coaching staff, kept focusing on, ‘Let’s keep getting stops, don’t get bored with getting stops out there, we need all the 50-50s, loose balls, everything that’s going to be important to winning.'”

ASU’s last seven opponents have all shot below 42%. The Sun Devils have rebounded well — UCLA’s five offensive rebounds was its lowest total of the season, and conference-leading USC only grabbed one more board than ASU.

The three-game win streak has put ASU back in the periphery of making the NCAA Tournament, but Hurley said the team isn’t talking about that yet. They’re focused on winning the Pac-12 regular season.

That sounds like coach-speak, but just 1.5 games back from first-place Colorado with eight games left, ASU is inching up the standings.

“The Pac-12 regular season is within striking distance,” Hurley said. “There’s a number of teams that have an opportunity to do that if they keep winning and I think that’s where our mindset is right now.”

ASU goes on the road this week to face Stanford (16-7, 5-5) and Cal (10-13, 4-6).

The two northern California teams have combined for a 22-5 home record this year.

“Stanford’s having an NCAA Tournament-type season. They both really defend well, especially at home, so our defense has to travel with us because I think that they’re going to get their stops,” Hurley said. “It’s looking like both games would appear to be low-scoring games unless we can have some sort of breakout offensive performance.”

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