After a crushing 91-70 loss to the Washington State Cougars Thursday night, the ASU men's basketball team responded with a dominant 75-63 victory over the conference-leading Huskies.
“I think bad teams, or just average teams, would go in the tank after a game like that where you’re beaten the way we were beaten and don’t have a lot of time to recover for the next game, and you have to play a team that had just won 12 in a row,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “It shows what we’re capable of and the potential there if we could just harness that somehow and bottle it and bring it everywhere we go.”
The Sun Devils (16-7, 7-4) defense was stout from the opening tip, as they held Washington (19-5, 10-1) to an almost 37 shooting percentage from the field. However, the team’s crowning achievement in the victory was its commitment to controlling the paint, as ASU had more than double the points in the paint of Washington (42-20) and almost twice as many rebounds (40-23).
“That’s going to be the thing going forward for every game," Hurley said. "We have to guard with that energy and rebound with that energy. Then, regardless of how we’re shooting, we’re going to be in the game and have a chance to win.”
ASU’s starting lineup as a whole played incredibly well, with all five members notching at least nine points in the win. Redshirt sophomore forward Romello White led the team with 17 points to go along with his 8 rebounds, all while playing hard-nosed defense on the other end of the floor.
After a poor performance in Thursday's loss, White revealed that Hurley really lit into the young big man about his play and challenged the redshirt sophomore to step up his game.
“We were really just taking our time and feeding the inside,” White said. “Really just going straight at them and going at their chest. We tried to focus on not shooting outside shots and just trying to go inside and beat them in the paint. Coach told us to dominate the paint and I think we did that.”
Zone defense has given the Sun Devils fits all season long, and yet Saturday against one of the best zone defenses in the country, ASU chugged along with incredible efficiency. The team shot an astronomical 61.7 percent from the field, thanks in no small part to the penetration of sophomore guard Remy Martin.
Martin’s ability to bypass the initial two defenders at the top of the zone forced the Washington centers into difficult situations, and almost singlehandedly carried the Sun Devil offense in times of desperation and became a defining factor as ASU’s lead grew in the second half.
“Remy did very well at maintaining his dribble, having good awareness for where their defense was, and then just trying to pick apart where the available play was,” Hurley said.
The two-game turnaround between Thursday and Saturday’s contest is almost unprecedented and is a testament to the hard work of Hurley and his staff.
The upgrade could be due to an unusual coaching maneuver by Hurley, who barred his team from launching in a single shot in practice Friday. While Hurley did call the move “childish” in retrospect, the message clearly made its mark as the team had its best shooting percentage against a Pac-12 opponent since Feb. 2, 2013.
“Every drill that we did ended in a pass and no shot,” Hurley said. “For us to shoot (61) for the game and not take a shot before that’s pretty good. They responded in practice, and this was a great team performance.”