TEMPE – The Arizona State Sun Devils have surpassed expectations, but the ceiling for coach Bobby Hurley’s team remains unclear after a Jekyll and Hyde performance during the team’s latest homestand.
The Sun Devils looked the part of a Pac-12 contender against No. 5 UCLA in Thursday’s primetime matchup despite suffering a loss, but a lackluster effort against USC led to a weekend sweep at the hands of the Southern Californian rivals. Now ASU has returned to the NCAA tournament bracket bubble heading into the third and final stretch of the regular season.
“I felt like it was flat-out embarrassing,” said Warren Washington, who finished Saturday with a team-high 21 points in Saturday’s 77-69 loss to USC. “We embarrassed our fans, embarrassed ourselves and embarrassed our community.”
One of the most exciting weekends of the Hurley era came with high hopes, but the Sun Devils left doubt surrounding their legitimacy as a Pac-12 threat.
Desert Financial Arena set the stage last Thursday for one of the most anticipated matchups in recent history against No. 5 UCLA. In the battle for first place in the Pac-12 standings, school support reached an all-time high with 5,213 students to break the previous mark set last season against UArizona by more than 1,200 students.
Desmond Cambridge Jr. hit a ridiculous half-court buzzer beater to end an impressive opening half as momentum trended toward the packed house storming the court on the final buzzer. But in the second half, the Sun Devils struggled to solve the dynamic pick-and-roll action of Bruins guards David Singleton and Tyger Campbell, who combined for 43 points on 14-21 shooting. To make matters worse, the Sun Devils were outscored 24-7 in the final 10 minutes of the 74-62 loss.
The Sun Devils further damaged their case to go dancing in March in Saturday’s game against USC, an opponent they haven’t defeated since Feb. 8, 2020. Hurley’s squad had no answer for the Trojan offense, which shot 49% from the field while going a perfect 14-for-14 at the charity stripe.
Hurley credited the makeup of his players for this season’s success but called out his team for not carrying it into the two pivotal matchups.
“I think the reason I’ve connected so much with this team is because we’ve had some guys that weren’t recruited heavily, that were overlooked, that play with a chip on their shoulder,” Hurley said. “And we certainly didn’t have a chip on our shoulder today.”
The Sun Devils enter a critical stretch of conference games with a road trip to Washington and a home series against the Oregon schools coming up next. There’s no doubt the outcomes will have serious implications on Selection Sunday as the Sun Devils currently sit in a three-way tie for third place with the Arizona Wildcats and USC.
ASU’s first opportunity to bounce back and gain ground in the Pac-12 race will come Thursday night against the Huskies at Hec Ed Pavilion.
“We’ll figure it out. We got days to do it,” Hurley said. “We’ve dropped two at home to two very good teams, but we’re still in a very good position in our league. So now we gotta make up for it because, you know, you lost two at home and now you gotta go figure out how to get those back through the last 11 games.”