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Bobby Hurley: Improved Pac-12 has ASU vying for top-4 spot

Chris Duarte #5 and N'Faly Dante #1 of the Oregon Ducks box out Romello White #23 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half at Matthew Knight Arena on January 11, 2020 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Entering Wednesday, a group of Pac-12 basketball teams — including Arizona State — was bunched up at the top of the conference standings. With No. 13 Oregon not even being the winningest team in the conference to date, that’s probably a sign of strength within the league.

UCLA (12-5 Pac-12), Oregon (11-5), Arizona State (10-6), Colorado (10-7) and USC (10-7) are five teams within two wins of each other at the top of the Pac-12 as the regular season nears an end.

The Sun Devils have two games left (Thursday vs. last-place Washington, Saturday vs. ninth-place Washington State) before the Pac-12 Tournament, and parity atop the conference has been the theme.

“The league took care of business in the non-conference weeks. We proved that we’re a really good league,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Wednesday. “Multiple teams top-to-bottom handled their business and put the league in a situation where we should get six to seven teams in the NCAA Tournament. This is the best the league’s been since my first year, and that year, I believe the Pac-12 got seven teams in the tournament.”

Hurley’s first year was 2015-16. That season, the conference had Oregon, Cal, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, USC and Utah in the NCAA Tournament. Since then, the conference has had four, three and three teams each year, in that order. ASU is looking for its third consecutive tournament appearance.

At the moment, though, the Sun Devils are focused on trying to get a share of the Pac-12 regular season title. After that comes the conference tournament, and the Big Dance after that. Last week, ASU fell to current conference leader UCLA in a nailbiter, 75-72, and then lost 71-61 at USC.

“There was a lot of hype going into our UCLA game just because we were in first place and they were right on our heels, as were a number of other really good teams,” Hurley said. “The conference has vastly improved, obviously, over the last two seasons.

“So we went toe-to-toe with UCLA, went the distance with them, had a chance to go ahead with 30 seconds left in the game. Our best player took a shot, what more could you ask for? They hit a very difficult contested shot at the buzzer to beat us. So that’s what it took to lose that one.”

ASU can only control what it can control ahead of the Pac-12 Tournament, and  getting into the top four in the conference at the end of the regular season could be a big deal; those teams get a bye in the first round of the tournament as the other eight play each other.

“We’ve been so consumed with trying to win the Pac-12 regular season championship, and we really, I thought, prepared hard last week for that. That was our mindset, our approach going into the UCLA game there. We played a winning game there, we came up short, and then we couldn’t get the win on Saturday. There still are scenarios out there that we could potentially get a share of the Pac-12 regular season. And obviously getting in the top 4 for seeding purposes in the Pac-12 tournament is what we’re talking about this week.

“If you’re going to try to go and go to Vegas and win a championship, your odds are dramatically better if you have that bye on Wednesday.”

Doug & Wolf

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