Lineup changes and zone defense aside, coach Bobby Hurley and ASU basketball are seeking the formula for consistent performances in Pac-12 play.
Three nights ago, Bobby Hurley watched his team’s best performance. Desperation and urgency drove a 22-point victory against Colorado – Arizona State’s first of the Pac-12 season – where ball movement and suffocating defense exorcised the demons of two troubling home defeats.
But on the afternoon before his team’s first conference road game, his demeanor was anything but satisfied.
“I don’t think we have anything to be really particularly excited about,” Hurley said. “It was wonderful and I think it showed if we play a certain way what the results could be, but you have to do that over and over again, and we have not proven that yet.””
Much like last season, the Sun Devils’ execution has wavered. Saturday’s victory marked a season-high for assists (24) and a night where five players scored in double figures. However, it was only enough to save a split of a two-game week, something that happened six times a season ago.
Now seeking the first conference road sweep in Hurley’s tenure, the team knows it will be difficult to carry the success over.
“Every team tries to give us their best game, and I feel like that’s how it’s going to be from here on out,” said sophomore forward Romello White. “We’ve been going hard at practice, working together, everybody sticking together. And I feel like our chemistry is great, and we’re going to play a great game.”
ASU (10-4, 1-1 Pac-12) is in the midst of four losses in seven games. But over the weekend, Hurley enacted change – moving Remy Martin and Luguentz Dort move to the bench in favor of Rob Edwards and De’Quon Lake.
The new lineup provided spacing the Sun Devils lacked against Princeton and Utah. It also added length on the perimeter and in the paint – something Hurley used to institute a 2-3 zone against the Buffaloes.
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With Colorado shooting 33 percent from the field compared to ASU’s 57, the lineup provided a necessary boost. As tomorrow night approaches, Hurley wasn’t sure if he’ll be starting the same group.
“You’ll know, I guess, 15 minutes before the game on that one,” he said.
He did, however, mention his delight with the result.
“I liked it in the small doses where we showed zone,” he added. “When you have certain lineups, I think it can be more impactful defensively. But [like] I said after the game the other night, the guys had the right mindset to defend and be physical and play with great energy.”
Here are some other things noted in Tuesday’s media availability.
The Status of Zylan Cheatham
Due to the impending funeral for his brother, Hurley said Zylan Cheatham’s status for Saturday’s game against Stanford is to be determined.
“He’s going to Cal, I can tell you that,” Hurley said. “Beyond that, we’re still up in the air with him with everything on Saturday.”
Last week, Cheatham was ASU’s most consistent player, averaging 14.5 points, six rebounds, four assists and 1.5 blocks. Throughout the season, he’s been the team’s outright leader, helping players like Taeshon Cherry break through cold performances.
If Cheatham can’t go Saturday, it will take a key defender away from the Sun Devils’ rotation. He is one of the likely candidates to guard the Cardinal’s KZ Okpala, who has scored over 20 points seven times this season.
The absence would likely add responsibility to Cherry and Kimani Lawrence. The pair is capable, but Cheatham’s absence would be a difficult one to handle.
The Growth of Romello White
Lost in the shuffle of ASU’s conference struggles a season ago, White’s production has been steady in the last six contests, where he’s averaged 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds on 70 percent shooting.
Against Colorado, White tied a season-high of 19 points with eight boards. Often flashing to the high post against CU’s 2-3 zone, he impressed by converting mid-range jumpshots, opening passes to the perimeter and finishing inside when called upon.
“He’s got great energy, and he’s being physical,” Hurley said. “When he gets his touches, he’s taking full advantage of them. He’s as efficient a player as we have right now with his shooting percentages.”
Aside from his offense, White’s improvement has shown on the defensive end. His increased mobility has helped him stay out of foul trouble in recent weeks, a note he and Hurley agreed upon Tuesday afternoon.
“I think the most [improvement] is pick-and-roll coverage,” White said. “Last year, I would kind of be late, and then they would go by me or they would split me. I feel like me working on my footwork helps me get up on ball screens.”
“He’s addressed things that we needed him to address defensively,” Hurley said. “He’s been in great in ball screen defense. Today on the practice floor, he did some great things with that. He’s really developing and emerging on our team as a guy we can count on.”
White and Lake have been interchangeable most of the season. Saturday gave the two an opportunity to play together, something White has been wanting for a while.
“We always go against each other in practice and we want to see what we can do with each other on the court,” he said. “He’s made me play way better because he’s so athletic and he’s strong. So me going against him all the time, him trying to block my shots all the time, he really got me a lot better.”
Of the seven games White has scored in double digits, ASU has won six of them. His production and presence will be key in the Sun Devils finding success moving forward.
Stringing Together Two Wins
Last season, Hurley swept his first conference series in his ASU coaching career, defeating USC and UCLA at home from Feb. 8-10.
At the time, it looked like a cornerstone, as the Sun Devils exceeded .500 in conference play. Instead, the team lost six of its last seven games, including five defeats in six games to close league action.
Again holding the Pac-12’s best resume in non-conference play, White agreed there would be a target on the team’s back. This time, the team hopes they can execute through it.
“Once you get used to that, then you’re going to be used to playing against that,” he said. “We’re pretty used to it. Every single game that we play from here on out is going to be hard. Nobody is just going to lay down and let us win.”
“You got to make it happen,” Hurley said. “We haven’t proven we could do that. Believe me, it’s something that we’ve talked about. There’s no guarantees of anything. We’re focusing on Cal right now, but big picture, we would love to string together some road wins.”
ASU will be looking to sweep a road trip for the first time since 2010, where the Sun Devils defeated the Oregon schools on Jan. 14 and 16. Two road victories would not only be a landmark for Hurley, but a sign of good fortune if the team can enter the Oregon homestand with a 3-1 league record.
Tomorrow’s game against Cal will tip off at 7 p.m. MST. The game can be watched live via Pac-12 Networks.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.