ASU men’s hoops fights back admirably but ultimately falls to No. 5 Arizona
TEMPE — If only for a half, Arizona State men’s hoops proved in Saturday’s 69-60 loss to No. 5 Arizona that the Sun Devils were worthy of the No. 25 ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll two weeks ago.
ASU (11-3, 2-1 in Pac-12) did so by holding the nation’s No. 2 offense, who came into the contest averaging 90.2 points per game, to its second-lowest point total of the season.
After an abysmal first half performance in which the Sun Devils went 29% from the field compared to the Wildcats’ 48% clip, Bobby Hurley and Co. were facing a 17-point halftime deficit trailing the Wildcats, 45-28.
“It always hurts to lose to Arizona for sure and give credit to them, they were really good in the first half and we struggled to make shots,” Hurley said postgame. “I think some of it certainly they get credit for how they were defending us, taking things away and whatnot — that contributed to some of our failure there.
“But I think there’s always a little bit of carryover from the way we lost last week and into that first half trying to get our confidence back. I appreciated how we fought our way back into the game and defended and got stops and started playing like we had been playing a lot during the season. So hopefully this is something to build on moving forward.”
In fact, ASU started 0-for-13 from deep before finishing the half 2-of-16 (12.5%). The free throw attempts disparity in the first 20 minutes also favored the Wildcats, 15-4.
A large contributor to that was Arizona’s 7-foot, 260-pound center Oumar Ballo, who served as a rim protector and forced ASU to take a lot of outside shots in the first half instead of attacking the paint.
“They’re really good bigs, so going against them, I knew it was gonna be a war,” ASU 7-foot center Warren Washington said of Arizona’s Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis postgame. “I knew they were going to come at me, so I felt like I just had to be physical and match their energy.
“So it gives me confidence for sure playing against those guys because they’re really good and they have a big effect on college basketball so it’s cool.”
But Hurley’s halftime adjustments of full-court on-ball pressure and a pick up in tempo saw Arizona State storm out to a 19-4 run to start the second half and cut Arizona’s lead to just two.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, the Wildcats (12-1, 2-1) proved why they are the fifth-ranked team in the country down the stretch by pounding the defensive glass with Ballo, finding easy baskets for Tubelis and making their free throws as a team.
As a team, Arizona shot 38% from the field, 23% from three (5-of-22) and 86% from the free throw line (24-of-28). The Wildcats were led by Tubelis, who led all scorers with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 1-for-2 from beyond the arc and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Compare that to the Sun Devils, who finished the contest shooting 36% from the floor, 11% from deep (3-for-27) and 70% from the free throw line. ASU guard Frankie Collins led the team with 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, as well as being tied for a game-high six assists in only 22 minutes played due to foul trouble.
Arizona also attempted 28 free throws compared to ASU’s 10. The Wildcats came into the contest averaging 25 attempts from the charity stripe per game, which ranked the 13th-most in the country.
“Big,” Hurley said of how the foul disparity. “Frankie’s foul on the baseline down there — that’s his fourth foul and then it (messes up) all the rotations. I have two of my primary guys — I got Des (Cambridge) and Frankie with four fouls, so it impacts what we’re doing. So I’d love to see a more physical foul/whistle there and particularly being Frankie’s fourth foul.”
– Arizona did not make a field goal in the final five minutes of the ballgame.
– Sun Devils guard Devan Cambridge fouled out.
– A total of 12,582 fans were in attendance, a season high for Arizona State men’s basketball at Desert Financial Arena this season.
ASU hosts Washington State (5-9, 0-3) on Thursday at 6 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7, the Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.