ASU Basketball: No. 3 Sun Devils’ burst isn’t enough against No. 17 Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts after a foul call during the second half of the college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on December 30, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts after a foul call during the second half of the college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on December 30, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) /

ASU basketball were handed their first loss of the season Saturday night against No. 17 Arizona 84-78 despite multiple late surges from the Sun Devils.

Bobby Hurley called a timeout mid-way through the second half of Saturday’s game against rival No. 17 Arizona (11-3, 1-0).

His team was on the ropes, Arizona big man Dusan Ristic just walked to the basket for an uncontested dunk, putting the Wildcats up 12 in what would eventually be a 84-78 win.

The Arizona State players walked to the sideline, but Hurley paid little attention. He used the extra time to get face-to-face with the refs, crucifying them, looking for any explanation about the calls against his team.

The redder Hurley’s face got, the louder the pleas from the McKale Center crowd to give ASU’s head coach a technical foul got. The refs did not appease many of the 14,644 on hand and didn’t assess Hurley a tech.

But, as the 3rd-ranked Sun Devils (12-1, 0-1) rose from the bench and walked back onto the court, it seemed evident that Hurley’s tenacious fire and energy quickly began to personify the rest of his team’s game.

The Devils went on a 13-2 run following that chaotic timeout, a stretch that saw Tra Holder score nine of his game-high 31 points and one that seemed like Déjà vu for ASU.

“I always felt we were in the game even when we were down 12,” Holder said. “We can catch fire quickly.”

Their season up until the Arizona game had been defined second half bursts – or stretches where ASU’s deficits vanish for good after a barrage of scoring.

The burst came against Xavier and Kansas State, it came against Kansas in another hostile environment, but Arizona did something after those bursts that previous team failed to against the Sun Devils:

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Many teams fold after ASU starts scoring like that, the flurry of quick defense to offense scoring is often too much.

But Arizona has been there before, so, like the (as much as you can be in college) veteran team that they are, they regrouped, and had a burst of their own.

After Holder missed a Allonzo Trier-contested layup that would have given the Devils the lead, Arizona’s offense ignited.

With 7:18 left in the game, senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright nailed a jumper. On the Wildcats next possession, Trier hit a three. On their possession after that, freshman Deandre Ayton, who ended the night with 23 points and 19 rebounds, hit a shot.

It was the beginning of a 12-1 stretch for the Cats and one that gave ASU a taste of its own medicine.

In that run, Arizona showed its skill and versatility, it showed in just how many different ways it can beat its opponents.

Its guards, led by Trier who finished with 23 points including 10 free throws, can drive to the basket, or as the Wildcats did eight times Saturday, they can knock one down from beyond the arc.

But, their advantage was not in the backcourt – not playing against Guard U with Holder, Kodi Justice, Shannon Evans and freshman Remy Martin – its dominance was down-low.

Arizona State doesn’t have a 7-footer on its roster, its tallest starters were 6-foot-7 Mickey Mitchell and 6-foot-8 Romello White. As Ayton said after the game: “They’re undersized big-men.”

Seven-foot-one Ayton and 7-foot Ristic were menaces for the Sun Devils. They scored from the post and the block, they drew double teams, and, more importantly, fouls.

White fouled out for the Sun Devils late in the game and many of the Sun Devils fouls came on the wrong end of an Ayton and-1.

“We tried to surround them,” Hurley said. “We trapped sometimes. Sometimes we dug and we kind of mixed it up. We didn’t want to give them a steady dose of anything.”

The Wildcats size was just another test for an Arizona State team that has tried to prove itself all season long. It didn’t pass this test, but it didn’t fail either.

Against a great team in an intense atmosphere, the Devils proved they’re not a fluke. They hit three’s and went on their runs.

It all just wasn’t enough.

The Devils last effort came with four minutes left. They went on a 14-4 run and eventually pulled within two with 11 seconds to play. Evans three that would have tied the game with six seconds left fell short and the Wildcats escaped.

“We didn’t hit enough shots we normally hit, today,” Holder said. “But that’s how basketball is.”

That key win against Arizona still alludes Hurley, but Saturday’s game ended with many considering ASU on-par with their rival who boasts the Final Fours and National Championship.

In their last two trips to Tucson, ASU had lost by 38 and 16 points, respectively. Saturday, the deficit was just six.

As the fans trickled out from McKale Center, one Arizona fan said, “We don’t win that game in Tempe.”

Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not, but sure enough we’ll find out and as the rivalry starts to heat up, U of A head coach Sean Miller seems to know how tight the future battles will be.

Next: ASU Basketball: Efficient first halves key to Devils’ success

“They’re a really good team,” he said. “We’re not going to beat them by 20 points, by 15 points. The difference between the two teams isn’t big enough for that game to go that direction (a blowout).”

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.