Finding same ID as last year, ASU basketball’s defense unfurls Stanford

Jan 30, 2021, 9:46 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2021, 12:22 pm

Arizona State guard Alonzo Verge Jr. (11) blocks the shot of Stanford guard Michael O'Connell (5) d...

Arizona State guard Alonzo Verge Jr. (11) blocks the shot of Stanford guard Michael O'Connell (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Bobby Hurley stomped two feet on the court, arms out, in close to the same defensive stance as his Arizona State players had been using to hassle Stanford ball handlers most of Saturday night.

In all his fire, he stumbled backward, lost his balance and found himself on his butt as the officials called a technical on him.

It was a humorous moment but representative of the effort the Sun Devils put into their defense at Desert Financial Arena.

Sometimes, the aggressiveness backfired. Five players on ASU’s side ended the game with three fouls while big man Jalen Graham had four.

But the good outweighed any concerns.

After Stanford took a 75-74 lead on Michael O’Connell’s mid-range jumper, Arizona State forced two turnovers and a miss in the final 1:17 of the game for a 79-75 win, their second in a row.

By the end of the night, the Sun Devils had forced 20 Cardinal turnovers leading to 29 points.

Stanford went just 2-of-15 from three and couldn’t take advantage of all those ASU fouls that led the Cardinals to 31 free-throw points on 34 attempts.

A year ago, a mid-January surge helped ASU sling together a strong NCAA Tournament case with nine wins in 10 games. The guard and wing-heavy team moved Alonzo Verge Jr. to the bench, and it found an identity behind pressure defense setting up transition offense.

It seems that identity is back.

Before their most recent series against the Bay Area schools, the Sun Devils turned to the same things. Verge went to the bench, and ASU again Saturday put a well-coached Stanford team missing three key ball handlers  — Bryce Wills, Daejon Davis and Ziaire Williams — in what must have felt like a game-long escape room.

“We knew that they were thin based on not having those players available for the game,” Hurley said. “It’s what we do anyway so we just wanted to stick with that plan. I thought it got us going in the first half.

“It transitioned into some offense the other way for us. I was very happy about our energy on that end of the floor.”

It helped, obviously, that ASU’s best player looked like his old self after dealing with the death of his grandfather earlier in the month.

Remy Martin finished with 23 points, six assists and four steals, going 9-of-15 from the field.

“I’ve been going through a lot. I’m just starting to figure it out,” Martin said of his mindset. “Things happen in life and you got to figure out how to maneuver around them. That’s the process I’m in now.”

Verge added 12 points, four assists and two steals off the bench, and Hurley made sure to point out how easily his offense came and the impact it made for the Sun Devils.

But ASU’s defense was the story.

“That was part of our identity last year,” Verge said of ASU’s aggressive ball pressure. “I feel like that’s something that coach wanna go back to. Jumping to the ball and doing the little things.

“Communicating and jumping to the ball, talking to your teammate when he’s by himself on an island.”

Stanford led 75-74 with 41 seconds when Kimani Lawrence drove the lane, got fouled and had his shot pinned on the backboard that was called a goaltend after an official review. His and-one free throw gave ASU a 77-75 lead.

ASU could’ve built on that two-point lead when it forced a turnover on O’Connell and drew a foul on him grasping for the ball with 17 seconds left. But the Sun Devils weren’t in the double-bonus.

Martin’s missed front-end free throw gave Stanford the final possession.

After calling a timeout with 8.6 seconds left, the Cardinal set up Oscar da Silva to drive against Lawrence, who stood his ground and went straight up to force a miss. Da Silva, who scored 18 points to go with 11 rebounds and four assists, got his own rebound, but the Sun Devils stole it. Verge made two free throws to seal it.

Said Hurley to start his press conference: “I love our resilience tonight.”

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