For the Arizona State men’s basketball team the mission the last two weeks of the regular season is clear – get some players healthy and try and establish some momentum heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
Both of those have been difficult to this point but the Sun Devils (7-11, 4-8) are bracing for four straight home games against the Washington schools. Washington (5-17, 4-13) comes calling first with games at Desert Financial Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday and 5 p.m. Thursday. The first of those is a makeup game from one postponed when ASU was supposed to travel to Washington last month.
Much-improved Washington State (14-10, 7-10) then comes in for a 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday before playing ASU again on Monday at 1 p.m. in a makeup game.
ASU is coming off losses to the Los Angeles schools last week, with an 80-79 setback Saturday to UCLA in a game where the difference was a free throw with a second left. Hurley was pleased with how his team played for 71 of 80 minutes in those games.
“I talked to the team about just trying to gain some momentum. We could potentially play six more games if everything goes to plan,” Hurley said. “I remember a similar scenario my second year at Buffalo. We had just lost a heartbreaking game at the buzzer to go 5-5 in the conference and we won six straight from that point. And then we won two more in the conference tournament, eight straight games and went to the NCAA tournament.
“Certainly this time of year you want to gravitate toward playing your best basketball.”
For the last four games ASU has been without four players and that came at a bad time with ASU playing three of the top tier teams in the Pac-12 in that stretch in Oregon, USC and UCLA.
Because the Sun Devils are playing three times this week and are already thin, Hurley said there was little live work on Monday. Sophomore forward Jalen Graham was out with a migraine. Remy Martin (20.3 ppg), the leading scorer in the conference, was sore from the two tough games last week and didn’t do much while senior guard Alonzo Verge (13 ppg) was limited by a thigh bruise sustained in Saturday’s game.
Freshman guard Josh Christopher (14.3 ppg) has started physical therapy but his return is still a bit off.
The best news was that freshman forward Marcus Bagley (11.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), the team’s top rebounder, did more in practice than he did leading up to games last week. He will go through shoot-around and pregame warmups Tuesday in hope of getting back on the floor.
“Certainly as long as he doesn’t have any unforeseen setbacks, I would anticipate him getting back soon and he’s needed. His shooting and rebounding are exactly the piece of the puzzle that’s missing right now,” Hurley said.
Washington coach Mike Hopkins said his team is worried more about it’s own offensive and defensive executions but is prepared for a Sun Devil team that may not have met expectations but has talent.
“We’re focused on us obviously, where we can be better,” he said. “We just know that Coach (Bobby) Hurley’s teams are, regardless of who’s playing, you know you’re going to get a team that plays hard. Great guards. They share the ball and they’re explosive and they like a frenetic pace. The biggest key is you have to not turn it over because they live on turnovers to touchdown and they’ve got one of the best guards in America in Remy Martin. You can’t let him go bananas. They have great talent regardless of who plays.”
Washington is in a stretch where it is playing eight games in 16 days, the bulk of those on the road. Hopkins said he’ll have to lengthen his bench to minimize the drain that will take on his team.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the best hand when they put out the cards but we’re doing what’s best for the league and everybody. It’s a hard thing to do. We’re just fortunate we’re able to play and have the opportunity, regardless of it’s home or on the road. It’s been that kind of year. “
Washington State will head to Tempe after squaring off against Arizona on Thursday. The Cougars are coming off a triple overtime win against Stanford on Saturday in which sophomore guard Noah Williams scored 40 points. Junior guard Isaac Bonton (18.4 ppg) missed the last two games with a sprained ankle but is expected back.
The Pac-12 added three makeup games for ASU next week after postponements because of COVID-19 earlier this season.
The game Monday against Washington State is a makeup game for the Dec. 31 game in Pullman that was postponed.
ASU will then play at Colorado on March 4 and at Utah on March 6. The game against Colorado was originally scheduled for Feb. 4 and the game against Utah was originally scheduled for Feb. 7.
The Pac-12 tournament is scheduled to begin on March 10.