ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL

Big men brought positives to Arizona State in loss to Arizona

Jan 3, 2023, 9:46 AM | Updated: 11:39 am

Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley knows taking an L in a rivalry game is a hard L.

But from the lens of taking his Sun Devils through the journey of improvement, there was something to a 69-60 loss to the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday.

For one, Arizona State snapped out of a funk from a 37-point loss to San Francisco after falling behind the Wildcats 45-28 in the first half.

“I was concerned about how we would play in the first half,” Hurley told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday. “Even though we had a week of practice, there’s always some lingering after-effects when you get beat the way we were beat at San Francisco. I was worried about confidence.”

ASU (11-3) re-found its mettle, leaning on a full-court press to knock the Wildcats out of rhythm to storm back. It was a 49-44 game with just more than five minutes elapsed in the second half.

Ball pressure and backend roaming by center Warren Washington helped Arizona State hold Arizona to 38% shooting overall and 23% accuracy from deep for the game. Hurley called the second half “as good as we’ve played defensively all season.”

He even found a little something in the first half of that game as the Sun Devils struggled to knock down shots.

Six-foot-10 center Duke Brennan, a freshman from Gilbert, put together his second strong game in a row. After scoring 12 points to go with six boards in the loss to San Francisco, he grabbed six rebounds — four were offensive — and added six points plus a block against the Wildcats.

“In the first half, he was the most positive thing that happened for us,” Hurley said. “We had a hard time scoring and he was just making a lot of effort plays and hustle plays, and you know, getting offensive rebounds.”

It could be a boost that the ASU coach has found another capable frontcourt body to lean on.

Brennan joining Washington gives Hurley, for the first time since big man Romello White departed in 2020, a presence to complement ASU’s usual blend of perimeter-focused players.

Washington himself has room to grow in his first season. The transfer from Nevada scored six points on four shots, grabbed seven rebounds but also added three blocks and four assists against Arizona.

That first number could obviously improve with more touches, but the last one shows how Washington has transitioned so cleanly into the offense.

“I think it’s going to be a continuing process of getting Warren Washington more involved in our offense and a bigger part of our offense to where we can go inside-out a little more, to where we’re not shooting as many three-point shots,” Hurley said. “Hopefully that’ll be the next step in our development on the offensive end of the floor.”

Altogether, the progress puts ASU in a strong spot with a 2-1 Pac-12 record and the Washington schools visiting Tempe this week. The conference is very much up for grabs.

“This is a critical week in terms of not losing any more ground to the top-tier of the league in the standings,” Hurley said. “That’s what we’re thinking about.”

Arizona State hosts Washington State at 6 p.m. Thursday. Listen on 98.7, the Arizona Sports app or ArizonaSports.com.

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