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ASU Basketball: Transition defense key point in Utah loss

A flipped script

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

When head coach Bobby Hurley took the podium last Saturday after the Sun Devils’ defeat from the hands’ of Princeton, he pointed to ASU’s lack of offense and shooting struggles. His reason for Arizona State’s (9-4 0-1 Pac-12) 96-86 loss to Utah (7-6, 1-0) was the opposite on Thursday.

“There was no transition defense. I haven’t seen us play like this in that department of what we’ve been doing defensively all season,” Hurley said.

The Sun Devils sprinted out to a 17-point lead in the game’s first 12 minutes. Sophomore guard Remy Martin couldn’t miss any shot he took, his signature mid-range jumper kept falling. ASU continued to shoot threes, despite not making a large amount of them. The misses started to give Utah long rebounds and chances to get out on the run.

Hurley talked about the correlation of these misses and ASU’s transition defense:

“Sometimes it goes hand-and-hand with shot selection. When you don’t take good shots and you put your opponent in a position to have a chance and run out and get those scores,” he said.

Arizona State shot a lot better than they had the previous few games, they finished at 46% from the field. Plus quite the improvement from beyond the arc, after shooting 2-for-16 against Princeton, they made 11 threes in Thursday’s loss. However, it was nothing compared to Utah’s shooting night from deep.

At times it looked like ASU was attempting to defend Steph Curry and Klay Thompson at the perimeter. In reality, Utah’s Sedrick Barefield, Donnie Tillman and Parker Van Dyke were the sharpshooters in Tempe. The trio shot a combined 15-for-27 from three and contributed massively to the Utes’ 53% percentage from that area of the floor.

Hurley called Barefield “the best player on the floor.” The senior guard had a game-high 24 points, at the beginning of the contest Martin and Luguentz Dort defended him aggressively. He had a hard time finding his rhythm, but much like the game as a whole, Barefield turned it on to finish shooting over 50%.

“It started with our transition defense, when you let a team that’s struggling to score like they were the first 10 minutes of the game,” Hurley said. “It was hard to find a basket, then you start letting them get run outs and easy baskets that gives them more confidence. They played better as the game went.”

As Hurley exited the media room at Wells Fargo Arena, Zylan Cheatham entered reiterating the same conclusion to the loss.

“We started playing losing basketball, making losing basketball plays. Both offensively and unfortunately tonight it crept into our defense,” Cheatham said. “It affected us on that end, I don’t think guys were running back as passionately as we usually do. And it defiantly costed us.

“You’re not going to beat too many teams when you give up points like that. We obviously proved that when we got back on defense and kept them in a half court set and made them run a play or do something like that. We could guard them and make things tough for them. We let them get in rhythm, once you give a team like that confidence they just keep going.”

This might be an outlier to ASU’s season, Utah’s 16 three-pointers are the second-most ever against a Sun Devil team. However, outside of the Nevada loss, ASU has allowed 10-plus threes in their losses. The team shot better in the loss, but if they can’t put together games with both offensive and defensive production, it’ll be another long conference season for the Sun Devils.