Dayton dash: Hurley trusts resilient ASU ahead of First Four game

Mar 14, 2023, 10:50 AM
Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley, right, and guard Frankie Collins pause near the team bench during...

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley, right, and guard Frankie Collins pause near the team bench during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Southern California in Tempe, Ariz., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona State men’s basketball relished what it’s accomplished in the immediate moments it learned of a First Four appointment on Selection Sunday.

Head coach Bobby Hurley didn’t even see where the Sun Devils were playing or who before he cannonballed into the pool during the team’s watch party.

“I think I saw our name pop up on the screen and I just totally lost it. We all did,” he told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta a day before ASU faces Nevada in Dayton on Wednesday. “I didn’t know who we were playing, what region we were in, next opponent. I had no idea.”

ASU will face Nevada as a No. 11 seed, with the winner earning the right to play No. 6 seed TCU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It was tense,” Hurley said of the Selection Sunday wait. “There was some anxiety but we had felt pretty confident about what we had accomplished late in the season. … Just a tribute to our guys, a testament to their resiliency, because I remember us losing at home to Oregon and needing to go to the Bay Area and winning two games — like must-win.

“I told the team that and they responded. Unfortunately, we lost a game to Colorado and told the guys, ‘Hey, we have Utah, we got to win the game’ and we did.”

Arizona State then pulled off one win against a three-game road stretch against the top-three Pac-12 squads, Desmond Cambridge Jr.’s buzzer-beater from 60 feet against Arizona. And then the Sun Devils beat Oregon State and USC in the conference tournament to boost the resume just enough.

Still, it was a nervous time on Sunday.

And after a brief celebration for getting in the NCAA Tournament door, ASU packed quickly for Dayton.

The Sun Devils flew across the country on Monday, dumped their things at a hotel and went through a light non-contact practice.

“Yesterday was like a blur,” Hurley said. “We had to get out of there early in the morning to fly across the country and then to get off the plane and get hit with the shock of 25-degree weather. We gained a greater appreciation for the Arizona weather yesterday.”

But with all that context, Hurley has confidence in his team. ASU has weathered storms and is feeling good about its play heading into Wednesday.

Hurley has led Arizona State to two prior First Four appearances in Dayton, so there’s comfort in doing it again. Two of his players are transfers — center Warren Washington and Cambridge Jr. — who know Nevada’s roster having played for the Wolfpack last year.

Plus, the Sun Devils are pretty healthy, with freshman guard Austin Nunez close to returning after sitting out since Feb. 18 with concussion symptoms.

“We’re really healthy across the board,” Hurley said. “I think yesterday was Austin’s first day in non-contact work. We didn’t do any live work yesterday because the guys were on the plane for four hours and I didn’t want to get anybody hurt two days before a game. But Austin was a full participant in our workout yesterday and is moving pretty well and didn’t seem to have any side effects. He’s getting closer.

“I won’t know for sure if he’s going to be available tomorrow but certainly the way he looked yesterday, I would anticipate he would be available next week.”

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