ASU’s Grinch of a schedule: Hurley a fan of San Francisco trip before Christmas

Dec 20, 2022, 5:02 PM | Updated: 6:05 pm

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley calls out to players during the first half of an NCAA college...

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley calls out to players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Las Vegas. Arizona State beat Creighton, 73-71. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

(AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

Bobby Hurley is not here wanting to ruin anyone’s Christmas break.

But he’s also built his No. 25 Arizona State Sun Devils’ schedule with intention. Known for his challenging non-conference planning since he arrived at ASU, Hurley admitted there’s a good reason for why he has the basketball team visiting the San Francisco Dons on Wednesday.

If anything, it’ll help keep the Sun Devils from looking too far ahead — to a winter break or a New Year’s Eve matchup against the rival Arizona Wildcats.

“It probably dates back to when I was an assistant coach at Wagner College in Staten Island,” Hurley told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday. “It was Dec. 21, and we got on a bus to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was an eight-hour bus ride and we went and played (No. 15) Pittsburgh (on Dec. 23) and we beat them.

“Certainly deserved to win and happy for our guys, but you think about, ‘Was Pittsburgh thinking about going somewhere else, going home, not focused, didn’t respect the opponent enough?’ Maybe that factored into wanting to play a quality opponent like San Francisco on the road — so I could walk into that locker room and say, ‘Hey, look man, they just beat an undefeated team (UNLV) over the weekend. The week before in Vegas they lost by two to New Mexico, so this is a legitimate opponent and a road game. So we got to be locked in.'”

San Francisco sits at 9-4 and had some momentum lately. On Dec. 12, the Dons lost by three points to a currently undefeated New Mexico team and then beat then-undefeated UNLV on the road by two.

They might be a bit motivated against ASU coming off a 68-63 loss to UT Arlington on Monday.

Either way, Hurley sees the road game as an important lesson for Arizona State (11-1). The Sun Devils are for the first week of the season ranked, and while Hurley believes it’s deserved, playing at San Francisco presents an easy way to keep the group focused.

“I feel great for the guys. I sensed yesterday in practice, just a focused group,” Hurley said of the ranking. “This game is always scary for a coach — the game right before Christmas — because the guys are going to go home for a couple days after the game tomorrow night. Just want to make sure everyone is locked in and focused on the task here.”

ASU’s resume looks strong so far. It is 23rd in NET rating with two Quad 1 victories and another in Quad 2.

The Sun Devils are 35th in KenPom rankings, with an 85th-rated offense and 18th-ranked defense.

“I think our athleticism, our guys are buying into playing that end of the floor,” Hurley told Bickley & Marotta. “It starts with our ball pressure on the perimeter. We got guys who are very active. You know, Frankie Collins and Austin Nunez on the ball have done a great job. Our wings have good length: Des Cambridge shooting the gap on some passing lanes, Jamiya Neal with his length. And then around the basket, Devan Cambridge, his rebounding for us, Warren Washington and Alonzo Gaffney are challenging shots. It’s hard to score in the paint.

“I think the one area that we just have to get a little better at since we are forcing teams to miss some shots is rebound the ball a little better.”

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