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ASU Basketball: Slowly but surely, Sun Devils getting used to new foul directives

It's taken eight games, but Arizona State is starting to use the new emphasis on freedom of movement to its advantage.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Hurley is not happy.

Less than four minutes into Saturday's game against Texas A&M, the first-year head coach for the Arizona State Sun Devils is already hot over a foul call charged to forward Willie Atwood. As soon as the senior is whistled for the three-shot foul, Hurley jumps up and down twice, paces the sideline, and folds his arms demonstratively.

He then takes a couple of deep breaths before beginning an animated discussion with one of the game's officials, the type of talk that never seems to end with the coach hearing what he wants to.

The scene is not a new one for anyone who has watched Arizona State play this season. With an increased emphasis on hand-check fouls and freedom of movement for players off the ball, the team has struggled at times to remain out of foul trouble.

"I don't think anyone can really get used to it," said combo guard Kodi Justice after the victory over Texas A&M. "It is so touchy here and there. Everyone has been in foul trouble this year, so we are just going to try to do our best."

With an an already intense demeanor to begin with, the fouling struggles have been the source of a lot of moaning and groaning on the Sun Devil sideline. Hurley picked up his first technical of the season last week in a game against UC Santa Barbara, and that came five days after his team racked up a combined 55 fouls in a two-game trip to New York for the Legends Classic.

The coach was at least able to have a little fun with that situation, sending out this tweet on Thanksgiving.

For as frustrating as it has been at times early on this season, the Sun Devils do seem to be adjusting gradually to the new directives. They only committed 16 fouls in Wednesday's win at Creighton, and were booked for just two more than that against the Aggies Saturday night.

"I didn't really have that much of an issue in regards to officiating," said Hurley after the victory.

The calls can go both ways, of course, and the Maroon and Gold are really starting to use the quick whistles to their advantage on the offensive end of the floor.

Assertive play is rewarded generously in this new era of college basketball, and that was exactly what the focus was on to start the second half on Saturday. Texas A&M quickly racked up seven fouls less than two minutes into the second half, meaning Hurley's team was shooting free throws after every foul for the final 18 minutes of the contest.

"I thought the way we started the second half, we were very aggressive and they fouled us a lot," Hurley said. "That was big."

By virtue of being in the bonus so early, the Sun Devils could continue attacking the basket without worrying about taking too many outside shots.

"We stayed aggressive," said Justice. "We are just trying to learn and figure out all the little things we can with all of the new rules. We knew we were in the bonus so we wanted to get to the free throw line and keep that lead up."

Up is where the lead stayed, with Arizona State eventually coasting to a 67-54 win against the No. 18 team in the country. The team now has back-to-back quality wins and will look for another one next Saturday against No. 1 Kentucky.

Beating the Wildcats in Rupp Arena is no small feat, but it will certainly be made easier if the team continues to use the new rules to their advantage.