ASU likes to shoot, it’s no mystery. Throughout the season the Sun Devils have buried teams from beyond the arc, turning a small lead into a blowout without hesitation. Some would go as far to say they live and die by the three.
If that’s true, then they died against Arizona and Colorado. Connecting on 32 and 26 percent of its threes, respectively.
Up until Thursday, those two losses were the Devils only two. But in their third loss, a 76-75 defeat to Oregon (12-5, 2-2) Thursday night at “The Bank,” the script was different.
Keeping the same logic that the Sun Devils live and die from the three, they lived versus Oregon. ASU (13-3, 1-3) shot 50 percent from deep in the second half, 43.5 for the game. Yet, it was still handed its third conference loss.
For the Devils, it’s a tough reality check.
They can shoot great and still falter. They can restrain their fouls, have six less than their opponent, and still get beat. ASU’s three senior guards can score a combined 54 points in a losing effort.
Teams now have film on them, “Guard U” is no surprise anymore. Opponents have started to gameplan against all the things that made ASU’s early prolific offense so memorizing.
Teams have started playing a zone defense against the Sun Devils. They’ve let the shot clock trickle down as to not play right into the hands of ASU’s up-tempo offense. And the key to stopping the Devils from running in transition? Don’t let them get a defensive rebound.
“It’s just different here,” coach Bobby Hurley said of the Pac-12. “People scout you. They know if they run up and down with us that’s maybe not the best idea after you have the film that you have.”
Since Arizona State began conference play Dec. 30 against Arizona, its looked different. Many have waited for the Devils to just go on one of their signature bursts, but it’s their opponents that have drawn that fortune.
Hurley says his team isn’t in a “great rhythm” right now, noting that teams go through parts of seasons where they “are not quite in sync like you’d hope.”
That out-of-sync play has showed up for ASU in bad shooting nights, in games where they foul way too much. Oregon, though, just battled and wore out the Sun Devils.
The Ducks beat ASU 38-16 in the paint, grabbing seven more rebounds and 14 more points from the bench. Oregon rode much longer possessions, too – winding down the shot clock 20 or so seconds and then getting an offensive rebound to do the same thing.
“They grinded us up on defense, we were playing 25 seconds on the shot clock, they would miss a shot and get another board,” Guard Kodi Justice, who finished with a team-high 21 points, said. “That was hard for us to keep trying to compete on the defensive end and go down and we would rush up a shot and we would miss because we we’re playing 45 seconds on defense.”
Hurley understands that with a target now clearly painted on the Devils’ backs, teams are going to be experimenting, trying new strategies in hopes they will slow down ASU.
Heck, it was bottom-feeders Longwood and Pacific that first truly tested the zone defense against Arizona State, something every Pac-12 team has since picked up on.
Through it all, Hurley has taken the blame for not adapting to whatever new tactic teams have used, including the zone.
“I haven’t done as well at designing a scheme that will highlight what they can do or give us a better way to attack zone defenses, matchup defenses,” Hurley said. “I thought we had a decent plan in Utah and not so much tonight, especially in the second half.”
Referencing the adjustments to Oregon running down the shot clock, the third-year coach didn’t accuse his players of taking bad shots, he criticized himself for not implementing a better adjustment.
“I just didn’t quite manage possessions better with the lead and try and go a little bit longer with a possession and move the ball a little more,” Hurley said. “I thought we quick-shot and allowed them the close the gap which I thought hurt.”
For Hurley and Co., those adjustments better come quick, the Pac-12 isn’t getting easier.
That 12-0 start to the season and No. 3 ranking are in the rear-view mirror. ASU is 1-3 in conference play, and although it still has a ranking attached to it, it’s staring up at others in the conference race.
Hurley said that starting Pac-12 play, “everyone has hope again.” Well, it will come down to him and the Devils adjustments to see if the can extinguish that hope.