ASU Basketball: “Run and gun” Devils complete LA sweep

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 13: Kodi Justice
TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 13: Kodi Justice /

ASU basketball completed its first conference sweep in the Bobby Hurley era with an 88-79 victory over the UCLA Bruins Saturday night. 

It’s been a long time coming.

For the first time in Bobby Hurley’s tenure as Arizona State’s head basketball coach, the Sun Devils were able to complete a conference sweep, capping off the feat with a dominant victory over the UCLA Bruins at home on Saturday night.

Shannon Evans led the Sun Devils with 23 points, followed by Tra Holder with 22 and Kodi Justice with 17.

After missing all six of his 3-point attempts in Thursday night’s win against USC, Justice came out aggressive in the opening minutes, hitting his first three shots while looking to attack the gaps in the Bruins’ 3-2 zone.

With Justice spacing the floor, the Sun Devils looked much more comfortable against the zone defense, being intent on attacking the paint and showing no hesitation when pushing the ball up the floor.

“It started off with Kodi,” Holder said of the team’s early spurt. “He did a great job in the beginning. He was on fire.”

Down four midway through the first half, Shannon Evans ignited the second push of the half for the Sun Devils, scoring the first five points of an 18-4 run that put ASU ahead by double digits with the half winding down.

“Outside of the first six minutes, we really locked down on defense better and generated more stops,” Hurley said. “That led to us playing better and [being] more efficient on offense.”

For greater than five minutes of their first half run, Hurley’s defense was able to force nine consecutive misses from the Bruins, a team that came into Saturday’s game as the Pac-12’s leader in scoring offense.

The fast-paced tempo from the Sun Devils continued in the second half, as consistent playmaking from the “Guard U” tandem of Holder, Evans and Justice kept their momentum from wavering away.

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After a jumper from Alex Olesinski cut the Sun Devil lead to single digits, Hurley again chose to leave freshman Kimani Lawrence in a close game down the stretch.

Like Thursday night, Lawrence delivered, recording two steals, a block and a layup on consecutive possessions to keep the lead from falling any further than nine points.

“I think it’s great for him, just for his confidence,” Holder said about his teammate’s minutes down the stretch. “Coming back from an injury is very hard, especially in the middle of a season. He’s level-headed and he works super hard, so I’m proud of him.”

After two free throws from Lawrence at the 6:30 mark put the Sun Devils back up 12, Evans went to center court and raised his left hand in the air, calling on all 14,025 of the ASU fans in attendance to stand for the final minutes of play.

With the crowd on their feet, the Sun Devils shined once again, as an 8-4 run from Evans and Holder pushed ASU’s largest lead of the game to 16 points, leaving no doubt in what would be their third consecutive victory.

Saturday’s game marked the sixth time that both Evans and Holder scored 20 points or more in the same game this season. When they’ve done so, Arizona State is 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 11.3 points.

“You need that,” Hurley said of his guard play. “As the year progresses and as you get to postseason, you want to have guards that are elite [and] can be playmakers that make great decisions. That’s what puts you in a position to contend for championships.”

With the win, the Sun Devils improve to 19-6 overall and 7-6 in Pac-12 play. It’s the first time that the team has been above .500 in league play this season.

Now, appearing to have found their old ways, the Sun Devils will get ready for their greatest test of the season next Thursday, returning home for a rematch against the Arizona Wildcats.

Although it appeared that the rematch would lack the hype of the first matchup, this week in the Pac-12 has allowed a flip in that narrative. The Sun Devils have now won three straight, and the Wildcats have dropped two in a row going into their game against USC.

With newfound life in his team, Hurley hopes that the recent successes, especially on defense, will be able to transfer over to next Thursday.

“We were active, with deflections. Even when they drove in there, we were able to get a hand on a couple of those [drives] off the dribble. And that led to us getting out in the open floor.”

Next: ASU Basketball: Sun Devils "cash" in on miraculous win

Tip-off between the Sun Devils and Wildcats next Thursday will be at 7 p.m. MST. The game can be seen live on ESPN.

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