ASU men’s hoops to lean on defense to ‘enable better offense’ vs. No. 5 Arizona

Dec 29, 2022, 8:02 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 9:18 am
Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, center, celebrates with Alonzo Gaffney (32), Austin Nunez (2...

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, center, celebrates with Alonzo Gaffney (32), Austin Nunez (2), Malcolm Flaggs and Desmond Cambridge Jr. (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in the championship round of the Legends Classic Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, in New York. Arizona State won 87-62. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

TEMPE — Arizona State is in for its biggest test of the season when the Sun Devils host the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at Desert Financial Arena.

The Sun Devils (11-2, 2-0 in Pac-12) have been sitting on a 97-60 loss to San Francisco on Dec. 21 that saw ASU go from the 25th-ranked team in the AP Top 25 Poll to not receiving a single vote.

Although, it must be stated that Arizona State was without its best offensive weapon in forward Desmond Cambridge, who was sidelined due to a stomach bug.

“You hate to sit on a loss like that this long, so as a competitor you just want to get back out there and have another crack at it,” head coach Bobby Hurley said after practice on Thursday. “But truthfully, I think it’s helped us more because we’ve been able to work through some of our issues.

“And then also when you lose that way, you’re confidence gets shaken a little bit. So I feel like the way we practiced certainly today has some good indications that we’ve been able to put that game behind us.”

Saturday afternoon’s Territorial Cup matchup on the hardwood will feature a strength versus strength battle, as the Wildcats (12-1, 1-1) boast one of the nation’s best offenses, while ASU’s stifling defense has led the Sun Devils to an 11-2 record to start the season.

Arizona is currently scoring 90.2 points per contest, which ranks No. 2 in the country. Guard Kerr Kriisa is also averaging 6.1 assists per game, good enough to be tied for eighth-best in college basketball.

Conversely, Arizona State is allowing just 64.1 points per matchup. Prior to the San Francisco debacle, that metric was 61.3, which ranked as the 32nd-best scoring defense in the nation.

“I think we’ve established our identity and we kind of lost our way a little bit with that in the last two games of the non-conference,” Hurley said. “So we need to get back to playing defense the way we’re capable of and that’s enabled us to run better offense.

“So a lot hinges on how we’re guarding and our commitment to doing that and we’ve had some good practices where the guys are defending with the appropriate energy and intentions.”

This wouldn’t be Hurley’s first upset over a top-five opponent in his ASU tenure, nor would it be the Sun Devils’ first top-20 victory this season.

The Arizona State head coach has three career wins over top-five teams in the past five seasons, which surpasses the previous three W’s over a top-five team in the last 34 campaigns.

ASU also defeated the then-No. 20 Michigan Wolverines 87-62 in the 2022 Legends Classic championship game in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 17.

“You got to feel good about what we’ve done and where we are today and we just got to keep moving from here,” Hurley said.

He also added that he personally “scooped up” 50 tickets for the 12 p.m. tip-off on Arizona Sports 98.7, the Arizona Sports app and

“I don’t know if I have that many friends to give them to,” Hurley said. “I’m going to find 50 people and put a gold t-shirt or jersey on them. So it’s gonna be an exciting environment.”

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