The trait responsible for so much of Arizona State’s success on the hardwood this season was absent inside Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday.
The Sun Devils shot 34.6 percent from the field, including 39.1 percent from 3-point range during their 73-60 loss to their rivals, the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats.
Only two players—Kodi Justice (17 points) and Torian Graham (15 points)—achieved double-figure scoring in what was an uncharacteristically poor-shooting performance for a team that had entered the game averaging 79.3 points while shooting 43.6 percent per contest.
“Outisde of Kodi, we just had an off night across the board with scoring,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “It was unfortunate that we couldn’t do a better job on offense.”
The contest had provided an opportunity for the program to claim a monumental victory against an opponent Hurley, in now four tries, has yet to vanquish.
“We just didn’t have a great night on the floor, and Arizona had a lot to do with that,” Hurley said. “For us to give up 73, I would think we’d have a good chance to win based on how our offense is.”
The Sun Devils held the Wildcats to 39-percent shooting for the game, allowing the underdogs to hang around throughout much of the contest. Players attested the tight battle early on to their defensive play.
“I felt like we guarded well enough,” Justice said. “They made us struggle a little and miss shots that we usually make. If we come out with our A-game on offense, we have a good shot to win this game.”
Hurley noted his unit’s strong defensive effort in the first half which at one point enabled ASU to claim the lead. However, he also mentioned a 10-0 Arizona run out of halftime as what proved to be the “perfect storm” powerful enough to put the Sun Devils away.
“Our defense was fairly, consistently good throughout the entire game, minus some breakdowns to start the second half,” Hurley said. “We were getting stops, and we just couldn’t get over the hump going into the second half.”
Justice said the energy the team expelled through the opening 20 minutes wasn’t the same following the intermission.
“If you told me that we would’ve kept them within like 70 points, with our offensive power, I’d have said we had a good chance,” the junior guard said.
The matchup had set up for the Sun Devils to have their shooting prowess pull them to a win. Their defense was frenetic. Their opponent struggled early. The key thing missing was the scoring, and it was something the team mostly felt cost them the result.
“As a team, I don’t we played as well as we could have on offense,” Graham said. “Honestly think we did enough on defense, but we didn’t play well enough on offense.”
It spoiled the final home game seniors Graham and forward Obinna Oleka would play at Wells Fargo, which housed a contingent that answered the challenge of its visiting counterpart Saturday, engaging in a separate battle of spouting matches throughout the game surrounding the action on the court.
“I feel for Obi and Torian,” Hurley said. “We wanted to try and send them out on a high note with a great win against versus a good opponent.”
Graham, who’s endured plenty just to reach Tempe, went as far as to say, “I call this place my home.”
While outcomes like Saturday’s sting, there’s hope to be had for the Sun Devils moving forward, even if their chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament are very slim.
Nearly everything had clicked against Arizona, but their most reliable trait—the one they need to supplement the intangible ones—didn’t. If it were to all come together during the Pac-12 Tournament, the Sun Devils could possibly defy the odds.
For now, however, the result is the result. Neither Hurley nor his players have made any bones about it in the past, and now ASU must shoot the rock, and shoot it with the sort of confidence it has throughout the season if it hopes to extend its season any further.
That doesn’t mean they don’t give credit where credit is due when they have an off day.
“Arizona’s got the record they have because they’re well-coached and they guard well consistently,” Hurley said. “Overall we fought hard. We didn’t have a great night on (the offensive) end of the floor, and Arizona had a lot to do with that.”