Pac-12 play couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Looking fresh and rejuvenated after a seven-day break, Arizona State walked into Maples Pavilion and emerged with a 98-93 win on Friday night.
Their reward? An even tougher game, scheduled for New Year’s Night in Berkeley against the California Golden Bears.
Tonight’s road battle could be classified as a “schedule loss” for Bobby Hurley’s team. The Sun Devils are feeling good after a win, California needs a bounce-back victory after starting Pac-12 play with a loss, it’s a holiday, and Haas Pavilion isn’t the easiest place to play.
Nevertheless, Arizona State will look to bypass the excuses and start conference play 2-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
The pair of wins would mark the first time the Sun Devils have started Pac-12 play with two road victories since the 1987-88 campaign, when that team accomplished the feat against Washington and Washington State.
Tip-off: 8:00 p.m. MST
Television: Pac-12 Networks
Arizona State (8-6, 1-0 Pac-12) Update:
The Maroon and Gold knew that Stanford would try and take them out of their game on Friday night. They just didn’t care.
Not giving in to their opponent’s slow it down, ugly things up strategy, Hurley’s team ran when they could, shot with efficiency, and was rewarded with a big five-point victory.
Shooting guard Torian Graham led the team with 30 points off the bench, but Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II, and Obinna Oleka all finished in double figures. It was one of the few times this season where Hurley has gotten more than just one or two of his players to shine in a big game, and that is very good news for Arizona State if it can continue that trend.
Now the Sun Devils take their talents to Berkeley, where they haven’t won since 2015.
Hurley’s team did compete well on the road against the Golden Bears a year ago, but ultimately came up short in a 75-70 loss.
California (9-4, 0-1 Pac-12) Update:
Cuonzo Martin’s third year in the Bay Area got off to a fine start, with California winning seven of its first eight games to start the season. His team was then tripped up on Pearl Harbor in a loss to Seton Hall, and the Golden Bears have gone 2-2 since then.
Their most recent outing came on Friday against Arizona, where the Wildcats overcame a six-point halftime deficit to top the home team, 67-62.
It is likely California will come out tonight desperate for a win to avoid sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, but a hangover from a loss in which it led by as many as 13 points against a top-20 team is certainly possible.
An unlikely hero, freshman point guard Charlie Moore has proved to be Martin’s most dangerous tool through the first 13 games of the year. The Chicago product leads the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game, and limiting both him and his backcourt running mate Jabari Bird will be the key to pulling an upset.
1. Lock down the perimeter
The Maroon and Gold have been burned multiple times this season by smaller teams who have lit them up from three-point range, and the Golden Bears certainly have the ability to do the same thing.
Bird is dangerous from anywhere on the floor, and another senior guard, Grant Mullins, will pull the trigger if given enough space. He is shooting over 40 percent from three-point range so far this year.
Hurley’s club should be switching on most screens and put an increased emphasis on giving the California backcourt zero room to work when out on the perimeter if it wants to get out of the Bay with a sweep.
2. Start fast
Arizona State was able to get out to a decent lead early on at Stanford, which took the crowd out of the game until the Cardinal made a late push late. A similar effort will be useful tonight in order to quiet the typically rowdy Golden Bear fans.
Martin’s teams have fared very, very well inside Haas Pavilion in his time at the helm.
They have not lost to an unranked team in Berkeley since February 25, 2015, so recent history won’t exactly be on the Maroon and Gold’s side tonight.
3. Avoid foul trouble
One thing the Cardinal did succeed in two days ago was drawing the blueprint to get the Sun Devils into foul trouble.
Both Holder and Kodi Justice fouled out of that win, while Evans and Jethro Tshisumpa finished the night with four fouls. Oleka and Ramon Vila were also saddled with foul trouble throughout the second half, forcing Hurley to go deep into his very thin bench.
If the officials appear to have a quick whistle early on in this one, the team will need to be a little less aggressive than they were on The Farm.
Prediction: California - 85, Arizona State - 75