Following a 46-point shellacking from No. 1 Kentucky in the Bahamas, Arizona State returned to Tempe to recover and recharge before heading into the rest of its difficult non-conference schedule.
Head coach Bobby Hurley said several things were exposed about his team and allowed the players and staff to address certain aspects of their play to this point of the season.
“We’re evaluating ourselves,” Hurley said. “We’re taking a hard look at how we have to improve and get better to not have things like that continue happen. There were signs of it coming. You never want to lose that way, and I’ll never tolerate losing that way or accept losing that way, but it happened.”
One aspect that particularly stuck out in ASU’s loss was the lack of defense. Kentucky finished the game with six players in double-figures while shooting 53 percent, and freshman guard De’Aaron Fox tallied the second triple-double in program history with 14 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
The Sun Devils are giving up 84.3 points per game, which ranks 335th in the country, according to sports-reference.com. Basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s formula ranks ASU’s defense at 150th in the country.
Hurley discussed practicing a zone defense, but it is not something he said he enjoys much.
“I have a whole background that’s mainly based in man-to-man defense and accountability,” Hurley said. “I hope that we get there this year with our man, but you have to have some other things. You can’t just be one-dimensional. We have the zone that we’re going to use from time to time.”
Overall though, Hurley wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort on that end of the floor.
“We have to have more energy on defense,” Hurley said. “Things that I talked about early in the season—we’ve got to be scrappy and feisty and use our quickness. It was just not good that we allowed our inability to play efficiently on offense to affect our mood and how we defended, so we have to move past that.”
ASU shot 34.2 percent against Kentucky, a bit below its season average of 43.7 percent. It also racked up just 15 assists compared to 13 turnovers. The Sun Devils did have all five starters in double-figure scoring, however.
“They make it very difficult to run your offense. Their ball pressure was phenomenal. I’m not sure I’ve seen a player like [De’Aaron] Fox guard the ball that well. I thought it was good on film, but it’s even more so in person.”
The Sun Devils continued their trend of attempting plenty of threes and long jumpers in the Kentucky loss, tossing up 26 shots from beyond the arc and connecting on eight of them. On the season, ASU has attempted the 45th most threes this season, according to sports-reference.com.
While ASU has showed the ability to score in bunches when players are feeling it from long distance, redshirt junior guard Shannon Evans said the team needs to get the ball moving a bit more.
“I feel like we were rushing our shots,” Evans said. “We really preach moving the ball, so that starts with me as well. I’ll move the ball more.”
Evans also gave credit to Kentucky, saying the Wildcats’ defense emphasized the small things ASU needs to do better on offense such as ball protection and harder cutting.
Jethro Tshisumpa, Ramon Vila making progress
ASU’s two biggest players continue to make strides, but the growing pains are obvious. Ramon Vila logged 14 minutes against Kentucky, recording one rebound but four fouls. Jethro Tshisumpa lasted four minutes, collecting four rebounds and five fouls.
Fouling has been a bit of an issue for Vila and Tshisumpa, who average 8.6 and 12.9 fouls per 40 minutes, respectively, per sports-reference.com.
“Like freshmen, they’ve had their moments,” Hurley said. “I thought Jethro, although he wasn’t out there that long due to the fouls—some of those fouls, after looking at film, weren’t his fault... I saw some good things about him, and physically, he looked like he belonged in that game.”
Hurley said Vila was “very good” in ASU’s win over Tulane, and that he hopes both players improve quickly.
“Those guys need to get better,” he said. “We need more from those guys.”
Andre Adams update
Andre Adams has yet to play a game in two years due to several ACL injuries, and Hurley said they want to take their time with him before getting him on the court in game action.
“He got a very late start,” Hurley said. “All our guys were in the spring doing individual workouts, in July doing individual workouts, and he moved behind the eight-ball. We’re very patient with Andre. I’ve talked to andre before the season started about being patient with his process.”
Given ASU’s lack of depth in the frontcourt, Adams could prove to be another crucial body to rotate in with Vila and Tshisumpa coming off the bench should he be in full health.
ASU welcomes the 5-2 Runnin’ Rebels into Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday. The Sun Devils bested UNLV in Las Vegas last season in an emotional, 66-56 win in which they came back from a 12-point deficit.
UNLV is a much different team than a year ago, however, featuring a variety of new players as well as first-year head coach Marvin Menzies. The Rebels play a much more defensive style than they did under Dave Rice, who emphasized a high-tempo style of play.
“They’re a new team,” Hurley said. “They’re playing hard for their coach, first-year coach. They’re smaller. They’re not a huge team. That ought to help us some.”
Of UNLV’s top eight scorers, none stand taller than 6 foot 8.
Sophomore guard Jalen Poyser and senior forward Christian Jones lead UNLV’s attack, averaging 17.1 and 14 points per game, respectively. Jones also collects seven rebounds per contest.
The game will only be UNLV’s second road contest and just ASU’s fourth home game.
Tip-off is at 6 p.m. (MST) and will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks.