If Bobby Hurley is a New Year’s Resolution type of guy, at the top of his list for 2023 is more than likely going to be something along the lines of, “Beat Arizona.”
Falling to the team down south twice in the 2021-2022 season, Hurley and the Sun Devils (11-3, 2-1) were unsuccessful in their bid to stop the sweep as the Wildcats (13-1, 2-1) held on to defeat ASU by a final score of 69-60.
If you were told at halftime that this game would be decided by single digits, not many would fault you for disagreeing. The first 20 minutes in Tempe went just the way the Wildcats wanted, with plenty of points and possessions to their side as the Sun Devils couldn’t buy a bucket. Out of the locker room, Arizona State closed the gap all the way down to two points, before the lid went back on the rim.
“We struggled to make shots,” Bobby Hurley said. “Certainly they get credit for how they were defending us and taking things away. That contributed to some of our failures there.”
The same shot-making plague that killed the Sun Devils in their 37-point loss to San Francisco ultimately became their downfall again.
“There was some carry-over from how we lost last week,” Hurley said.
While offensive fireplug Desmond Cambridge returned to the floor on Saturday, he along with Frankie Collins was kept from making major offensive impacts due to foul trouble, leaving an already turbulent ASU offense out to dry.
“Two of my primary guys, Frankie (Collins) and Desmond (Cambridge), had four fouls,” Hurley said. “It impacts what we’re doing.”
The free throw disparity was largely in Arizona’s favor due to the Sun Devils’ foul troubles, with the Wildcats stepping to the line 17 more times than ASU.
The early personnel changes thrust some unheralded Sun Devils into positions where they needed to make plays to keep the game within reach. One of those to step up was freshman Duke Brennan, who secured six points and six rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
“I loved the way that Duke (Brennan) played. That was one area of the game that we won in the first half: the hustle game.”
Even with Brennan’s help and some timely bucket from Alonzo Gaffney, Arizona State was down 45-28 at the conclusion of the front 20.
“They were expending tremendous energy in the first half guarding us,” Hurley said.
Despite an abysmal 29% field goal percentage and a poor 2-for-16 mark from three in the first half, the Sun Devils came out of the break looking like a different team. A team that could compete with a top squad in the nation.
The reinvigorated Devils turned Desert Financial Arena from a funeral-like environment into a premature New Year’s Eve Celebration. While the ball had yet to drop in the mountain time zone, ASU was putting the rock in the hoop early and often with a 15-4 run to cut Arizona’s 17-point halftime lead all the way down to two through the first seven minutes of the second period.
“The difference was our energy and aggressiveness,” Frankie Collins said on the halftime adjustments.
Unfortunately for Arizona State, sophomore head coach Tommy Lloyd and his team felt the heat and adjusted defensively to weather the Devil’s offensive storm in the second half. Following Arizona State’s furious second-half start,
Even with the offensive regression, the Sun Devils’ defense kept them in the game until the final minutes. Ranked as the No. 7 team in the country at defensive effective field goal percentage, Arizona State lived up to that mark and held the Wildcats to just 24 points in the second half, the team’s lowest this season.
“They were really hard on closeouts,” Frankie Collins said. “They made us take some tough threes.”
Those difficult deep balls didn’t fall for Arizona State, as the team was 3-for-27 from beyond the arc on Saturday.
Moral victories don’t show up in the box score, no matter how impressive you can be in defeat. Despite holding the nation’s top-scoring offense to its lowest point total of the season, Arizona State simply couldn’t produce the points to match its outstanding defense, even with a valiant comeback effort.
“It always hurts to lose to Arizona for sure,” Bobby Hurley said. “They’re a top-five team in the country and beat some really good teams and we lost by nine shooting 3-of-27 from three. I appreciated how we fought our way back into the game, this is something to build on moving forward.”