Just days after declaring that if a Pac-12 team wanted to win in Arizona, it would have to go to Tucson, ASU men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley stood, frustrated, as his Sun Devils fell 88-82 to Utah.
With road wins tough to come by in college basketball, Hurley made it clear to the Sun Devils what needs to be done at Wells Fargo Arena to stay competitive in the conference.
“Our whole mindset this weekend was to protect our home court,” Hurley said. “It’s premium to win home games and that’s what we talked about after the Colorado game.”
The Sun Devils (9-8, 2-2 Pac-12) got off to a slow start, allowing the Utes to jump out to a quick 11-2 lead just over three minutes into the ballgame.
After the initial spurt, ASU was able to keep Utah uncomfortable offensively and confuse the Utes into making mistakes and missing shots, allowing the Sun Devils to survive the initial push.
Not only did the Sun Devils survive, but they thrived, making shots and extending their lead to as many as 10 points, much to the delight of the home crowd.
The tide began to turn back in Utah’s favor on the final possession of the first half, as junior forward David Collette turned in a fast break dunk as time expired to cut ASU’s lead to three points going into the locker room.
The Utes and Sun Devils traded buckets for the first few minutes of the second half before Utah took a 49-48 lead with 13:30 left in the game, which would never be relinquished thanks to efficient shooting.
“They made shots and we didn’t,” junior guard Kodi Justice said. “That’s what it came down to.”
Justice, who finished the game with 17 points, saw the Utes make 69 percent of their shots from the field in the final 20 minutes, keeping ASU at an arm’s length.
“It came down to, really, a tale of two halves for us defensively,” Hurley said.
In an attempt to turn momentum, Hurley kept up ASU’s defensive pressure, but saw only mild returns of 20 points off of 15 total turnovers by Utah.
“Once we were behind, we had to trade off trying to make some turnovers, which we did, and sacrificing a few where they got some dunks against our pressure,” Hurley said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of choice there.”
Both Hurley and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak were visibly frustrated with the officiating from start to finish, but when posed with the question, Hurley refrained from commenting.
“There’s a lot that I would like to say,” Hurley said. “But I’m just going to move on and be a good boy.”
Justice, though, was more open, saying that “every tough call didn’t go our way,” but said ASU has to overcome that adversity.
“There’s going to be plays in games where you feel like it needs to go your way and it doesn’t,” Justice said. “We just have to be able to play through it.”
That pressure nearly resulted in ASU mounting a furious comeback in the final minutes, as ASU cut Utah’s lead from 10 points with 2:53 remaining to a one-possession game with under a minute left.
With ASU down just two points with 34 seconds remaining, senior forward Torian Graham fouled senior guard Lorenzo Bonam, who promptly made both free throws to extend the lead.
The Sun Devils sent the Utes to the free throw line three more times in the final half-minute of the game, but could not get any closer than that two-point deficit.
Close, but no cigar.
“I’m proud of how the guys fought,” Hurley said. “And pushed the game to the limit.”
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