Los Angeles: The City of Angels, and in the Pac-12, the City of Champions.
That's where the ASU men's basketball team is headed next, after back-to-back conference losses have its record at .500 overall following a confidence-boosting start to Pac-12 play.
Following their matchup with the Bruins on Thursday, the Sun Devils will head across town and battle the USC Trojans on Sunday to cap off the weekend.
"It's been a difficult stretch," head coach Bobby Hurley said. "There's a lot of urgency to continue to play well. We've had a good week of practice."
The Sun Devils (9-9, 2-3 Pac-12), fresh off a loss to in-state rival Arizona at the McKale Center, must put the pieces back together quickly. ASU began the game in the hole 12-0 and could never truly recover, battling the ranked Wildcats and the ZonaZoo.
Thursday was not the first time ASU struggled against a ranked opponent this year, as the team sits at 0-4 and have lost those games by an average of 26.5 points.
Most of those games were away from Wells Fargo Arena, but junior guard Shannon Evans has played in some tough environs this season, such as the aforementioned McKale Center and Viejas Arena in San Diego.
"I feel like both of those places are hostile environments," Evans said. "It can only help us."
But the home court advantage at Pauley Pavilion and the Galen Center this year are far more daunting than Viejas and even McKale, as the No. 3 Bruins are 10-0 at home thus far and the newly unranked USC Trojans have lost just once, to No. 13 Oregon. Not too shabby.
Hurley thinks his team is up for the challenge, despite not having won at UCLA since 2009 and winning at USC just twice since then.
Hurley compared the Bruins to one of those ranked teams they've seen — Kentucky, who beat ASU by 46 in the Bahamas in November and lost to UCLA by 5 five days later.
"Watching a lot of film on them, they remind me a lot of what I saw in the Bahamas (against Kentucky)," Hurley said. "We're a team that likes a quicker game, but I'm not sure you want to get into an all-out-up-and-down game."
That's because the space and pace rhythm of the Bruins, led by freshman guard and analytics marvel Lonzo Ball, UCLA is averaging 92.9 points per game.
Ball and fellow freshman TJ Leaf joined an already-loaded UCLA roster, led by senior guard Bryce Alford playing his natural off-guard position, and have vaulted the Bruins to a top-five team by scoring from all angles.
"They've got multiple weapons," junior guard Tra Holder said. "Every one can score, put it on the ground and so versatile. We've got a lot to do and a lot to look forward to."
But to maintain pace in the conference, Hurley and Co. must overcome those obstacles, because early season losses loom large as the Pac-12 standings finalize and so do hopes for postseason basketball.
"Our schedule has been difficult to start Pac-12 play," Hurley said. "If we want to be in the top half of the league and make progress in the league, then we've got to get through some of these games and find a way to win."
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