ASU coach Hurley: Big-picture goal is to win Pac-12 Tournament

Mar 9, 2016, 10:22 AM
Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley yell instructions to his players from the sidelines during the fir...
Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley yell instructions to his players from the sidelines during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against California in Tempe, Ariz., Saturday, March. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
(AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
LISTEN: Bobby Hurley, ASU basketball coach

Arizona State’s basketball season did not go as hoped, but this week’s Pac-12 Tournament offers one last chance to make a statement.

Win four games in four days, and the Sun Devils will earn the conference’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

As the 11 seed that is much easier said than done, but if it is to happen, ASU will simply need to be itself.

“You try and stick to the routine and what you’ve been doing, and you don’t want to do something that’s uncharacteristic of how you prepare throughout the course of the season,” head coach Bobby Hurley told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday morning. “You do try to convey what’s at stake and the possibilities in the most positive way, just talking about our experiences of playing in the NCAA Tournament and what it’s like to be in that event, and that’s what we have right in front of us here.

“We’d have to win four games, but it’s certainly worth giving everything we have to try to accomplish that.”

Any potential run ASU will make starts Wednesday night at 9:30 against the six-seed Oregon State Beavers. The Sun Devils (15-16, 5-13 in the Pac-12) won the only matchup between the schools 86-68 in January as they held star Gary Payton II, who averaged 15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season, to just two points

“They have, obviously, one of the best players in the conference in GP-2; he’s an all-around player, just a guy that can score, he’s a great assist guy, he leads their team and he’s probably the best defensive guard in the conference — and the best rebounding guard,” Hurley said.

The first-year coach noted how the effort against Payton, an All-Pac-12 First-Team member and two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year, in their first meeting is what led to the Sun Devils earning a “comfortable win,” though he admitted he does not anticipate a similar defensive performance in Las Vegas.

“They have good freshmen, too. They have the kid (Drew) Eubanks inside that’s a legit seven-footer, that’s a developing guy, and then (Stephen) Thompson on the perimeter gives them a real good scoring boost,” he added. “They’ve won close games, they’ve had a great season, they’re right in the NCAA picture. It’s going to be a tough game tonight, for sure.”

ASU did catch one break leading into the game, however, as the Beavers’ second-leading scorer, forward Tres Tinkle, has been ruled out of the game due to a foot injury.

At 9-9 in the Pac-12 and 18-11 overall, the Beavers could parlay a deep run into an NCAA Tournament bid. They are on the proverbial bubble, however, and like the Sun Devils, are playing for their postseason lives.

That desperation makes a difference in a team’s mind set. Hurley, who led Buffalo to the Dance for the first time in school history has been in this position before, needing to win a conference tournament to keep their season alive.

“I let the guys know that this is all I know as a coach, this is my first year in a conference that you could get an at-large bid or (last season) we were in a position to get an at-large bid — and even though our RPI said we should have been an at-large team, I don’t think that would have been the case last year,” he said. “I felt the pressure of that; I tried to shelter our team from some of the pressure that I felt to get the team ready to play at the highest possible level.”

Hurley pointed out how one of his team’s best players got hurt during practice leading up to the MAC tournament last season, which made a championship run even more challenging.

In terms of his Sun Devils, the coach said they’ve had some quality practices and avoided injury this week.

“We have a big-picture goal, and that is to try to win the Pac-12 Tournament championship,” he said. “In the meantime, we have to take it one step at a time, one  opponent at a time, and tonight it’s Oregon State.”

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