It wasn’t so much what No. 25 Arizona (11-3, 1-0 Pac-12) could do Saturday night, but more what Arizona State (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12) couldn’t.
The Sun Devils struggled mightily to find the bottom of the basket throughout their 75-47 loss, connecting on a dismal 31 percent of their field goals, including an embarrassing 14 percent of their three-point attempts.
Even the team’s free throw performance, far from a strength but certainly not a weakness, was abysmal as the team only converted 8-of-19 tries, including misses on their first six attempts.
“I think we had a fair amount of open looks,” head coach Bobby Hurley explained. “I thought at times we overdribbled again. But if we go 3-for-21 from three, then this is what we’re going to be looking at.”
ASU looked physically overmatched from the opening tip, conceding a whopping 50 points in the paint compared to only 18 scored. Forward Romello White’s nagging ankle injury only accentuated the Sun Devil struggles, limiting one of ASU’s few options near the basket.
“We didn’t really have a presence inside,” Hurley said. “Romello battled but he was physically kind of a shell of what he’s been just with what he was working through. It was just tough to generate points on the inside. We had to kind of try and drive everything to get to the basket.”
A less than 100 percent White, combined with an already undersized ASU roster, combined to spell disaster for the now 9-5 Sun Devils.
UA continually punished ASU near the basket on both ends of the floor, out rebounding the Sun Devils 49-35 while connecting on 58 percent of their shots inside the paint compared to ASU’s 35 percent clip from the same area.
The disparity was so stark, Hurley went as far as to call it “probably the biggest difference in the game.”
“They were just being more physical than us,” White elaborated. “Pushing us, getting the rebound, just really playing harder than us.”
The lack of girth down low is nothing new for an ASU team that typically starts three guards, yet Saturday represented likely the worst case scenario of Hurley’s unique style.
ASU had a number of possible options to try and combat the size discrepancy, ranging from the team’s leading shot blocker Jalen Graham (10 minutes Saturday) to junior college transfer Khalid Thomas (didn’t play Saturday), yet Hurley mostly opted to send out guard-heavy lineups.
“You go in a certain direction, and once you’re down the road from a personnel standpoint, it’s kind of difficult to change gears,” Hurley said. “We’ve got to ride it out. Tonight was not good, and we’ve got to get back to work and put this behind us.”
Possibly the most damning statistic for ASU though, was their glaring lack of assists. The two assists totaled by the Sun Devils was the lowest figure of Hurley’s tenure at ASU, and a damning representation of the uninspired play that plagued the team on Saturday night.
“I feel like we could’ve moved the ball better and played as a team,” White said. “We only had two assists, so that’s definitely what we could’ve done better. We’ve got to move the ball, we’ve got to play as a team. We just got to share the ball and let everybody touch it.”
One of the few silver linings from the blowout was another high-scoring performance from guard Remy Martin. The junior led the team with 20 points, needing 19 attempts to collect his seven field goals while connecting on just three of his eight three-point attempts.
“I just liked how Remy competed,” Hurley bluntly explained. “He didn’t always do the right thing, but he made some plays out there for us.”
Up next for ASU is one of its most difficult stretches of the season, as they travel up north to take on both Oregon State and the No. 4 Oregon Ducks before returning home to do battle with the 12-2 Colorado Buffaloes.
As the Sun Devils look to stay afloat in the increasingly competitive Pac-12, Hurley works to keep things in perspective with the majority of the season still on the horizon.
“The only positive,” Hurley said of Saturday’s loss, “is it’s only one game and there’s 17 more.”