ASU Basketball: Devils search for production, physicality in Utah rematch

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 19: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils high fives Tra Holder
TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 19: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils high fives Tra Holder /

The whistle blew for 31 foul calls on ASU basketball in their first clash with the Utah Utes.  Returning home with a new rotation, the Sun Devils hope for a cleaner result in round two.

Arizona State pulled off their first win of the conference season at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Jan. 7, defeating the Utah Utes by a score of 80-77.

However, the victory didn’t come without a price. Forwards Romello White, De’Quon Lake and Vitaliy Shibel all fouled out for the Sun Devils in the closing minutes, allowing the Utes to get to the free throw line for a total of 36 attempts.

“It was the longest game in the history of college basketball,” joked coach Bobby Hurley.

Now returning home for their second matchup against the Utes, the Sun Devils will look to correct the foul count and get more production out of their star players.

Tra Holder, averaging just 10.2 points per game in his last five outings, began his recent Pac-12 struggles on that night in Salt Lake City. He had just 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting, falling into a spell that he’s still looking to get out of this week.

“I’ve been doing the most [I can] trying to get out of it,” Holder said. “[In] previous years, I haven’t played well in zones, so it kinda shut me down. I [just] got to come in every game with a positive mindset.”

Despite his recent slump, Holder feels that he hasn’t had to overcome the challenge himself. Both Hurley and his teammates feel that it’s only a matter of time before Holder gets back to his old self.

“I just told him to try to do other things,” Hurley said. “I told him to focus on being the assist guy and all the other things that you need to do as a basketball player. I know he’ll move forward and get better.”

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As for the rotations, Hurley wasn’t shy to endorse both Mickey Mitchell and Shibel’s efforts in their new roles. Thanks to 41 points off the bench at a plus-nine rebounding margin on Saturday night, Hurley feels having Shibel back in the starting lineup will give his team the best chance to win this week.

“For now, this is the direction we’re going,” Hurley said. “He [Shibel] is a threat, plays off our guards very well and is in the right spot if the defense is helping in the paint.”

More importantly, Shibel has shown to provide the extra size that the Sun Devils have been lacking on the interior. By putting him alongside White in the post, Hurley can more easily substitute Lake in with White, pairing a low-post combination that gave several teams trouble throughout the non-conference season.

From a playstyle standpoint, pairing the two may just be the cure to solving the foul trouble that occurred against Utah the first time around.

“Interior-defense wise, they help each other more,” Hurley noted. “They’re less likely to get in foul trouble when they’re together because of Romello’s physicality and Lake’s athleticism. It gives you a better chance to avoid those situations and use our four-man in different ways.”

In their first matchup, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak constantly urged his team to get in the paint and attack the smaller Sun Devil lineup, often with Shibel, White or Lake being the sole big man on the floor. Utah bigs David Collette and Tyler Rawson combined to convert eight of their nine attempts in the paint along with 11 free throws made on 13 attempts.

Holder, now knowing what the Utes will bring to the table, feels that his team has the upper hand in terms of gameplanning for a second matchup.

“Now, we have more film on them to see how they play,” Holder said. “We looked at the open shots we got and how they defended us. Playing them again is always an advantage.”

Playing on the road for five of their first seven conference games, ASU will now prepare to play seven of their final 11 Pac-12 games at home.

Next: ASU Basketball: 2018 Pac-12 Week 4 Power Rankings

The Sun Devils and the Utes will tip off Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. MST. The game can be viewed on Pac-12 Network. 

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