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ASU Basketball: Streaking Sun Devils roll into matchup with No. 5 Kentucky

One week after upsetting No. 18 Texas A&M, Arizona State returns to the floor against a top-five Wildcat team.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It's not very often that the SEC has two teams ranked inside the top 20 in basketball, and it is not very often that the Arizona State Sun Devils play those teams in back-to-back games. But Bobby Hurley's motto of "anyone, anytime, anywhere" welcomes these types of challenges, and he will see just how good his team is when they face the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats this afternoon in Lexington.

Arizona State has bounced back in strong fashion after dropping its season-opener against Sacramento State, winning six of its last seven and flying high after knocking off No. 18 Texas A&M a week ago in Wells Fargo Arena.

The Sun Devils are back in action today against Kentucky, the toughest opponent yet on a nonconference slate that has included the likes of Texas A&M, Creighton, and Marquette.

Tip-off: 1:15 p.m. MT

Television: ESPN

Arizona State Update (6-2):

Hurley's team jumped out to a 22-8 lead against the visiting Aggies last Saturday and never looked back, cruising to a 67-54 upset against the 18th-ranked team in the country. While the maroon and gold struggled with their outside shooting touch at times, their best defensive effort of the year made sure the lead was at a comfortable margin all night long.

This team's lack of a go-to player has not been a problem at all thus far, with anyone on any given day being able to step up when needed. Five different players scored in double figures against Texas A&M, led by a 15-point performance from Willie Atwood.

Atwood has rewarded the coaching staff's faith in him nicely over the past four games, exploding for an average of 11.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest in that period. He is quickly becoming one of their most dynamic scorers, along with Savon Goodman and Tra Holder.

The trip to Rupp Arena is a familiar one for Hurley, who coached there on opening weekend last season while with the Buffalo Bulls. The Bulls actually led the Wildcats by five at halftime before eventually falling to a team that would finish the year with a record of 38-1.

Kentucky Update (8-1):

John Calipari's team is coming off a get-right win over Eastern Kentucky after dropping its first game of the season nine days ago at UCLA. Kentucky had its worst shooting game thus far, by a wide margin, in that 87-77 loss in Westwood.

While the loss to the Bruins was certainly a surprise, there is no denying that this is an elite team. The Wildcats have four players averaging in double figures and handled a top-five Duke team last month. They will be the toughest opponent Arizona State sees this season.

Keys to victory:

1. Savon Goodman's mid-range game

Goodman is shooting at a very nice 66.2% clip on two-point field goals through eight games this year, and if Kentucky's defense has a weakness, it is defending from that area between 15 and 18 feet. If the Sun Devils are to have a chance at an upset, they will need to get Goodman's jumper going in early and often today.

2. Force the issue

Skal Labissiere, Alex Poythress, and Derek Willis were all held under 17 minutes of action in that loss at UCLA due to some major foul trouble, while guard Isaiah Briscoe was also saddled with four fouls for the majority of the night.

This is not one of the deeper teams Calipari has had recently in Lexington, and Arizona State will be well-served to get deep into that Wildcat bench.

3. Limit Murray

Shooting guard Jamal Murray is the latest freshman sensation on the UK campus, and he has the talent to take over a game by himself. While smaller in stature, he will remind Sun Devil fans of Marquette's Henry Ellenson, who torched their defense for 18 points in last month's Legends Classic. Murray is averaging 15.3 points per game and was one of the lone bright spots against the Bruins, burying five three-pointers in defeat. He will be the focal point of ASU's scouting report.

Prediction: Kentucky - 73, Arizona State - 66