As Wildcat fans began to file out, and faint chants of A-S-U began to fill a shocked McKale Center, one was almost able to see the metaphorical monkey make its way off of coach Bobby Hurley’s back.
In a season chocked full of firsts, Saturday’s 72-64 victory might have been the program’s most important, as Hurley nabbed his first win in Tucson as coach of the Sun Devils while also securing ASU’s first sweep of Arizona in 11 seasons.
Winners of five of their last six, ASU now heads to Las Vegas in hopes of solidifying their already tournament-worthy resume and to vie for the school’s first ever conference championship.
“Overall it was a connected group, it was a team that was motivated to win in one of the toughest places you can play in college basketball,” Hurley said. “I’m just really proud of the effort tonight.”
Much of Saturday’s offensive output for ASU came at the hands of sophomore guard Remy Martin, who poured in 27 points to go along with his eight rebounds and seven assists. His ability to carve through the Wildcat defense at will put constant pressure on the Arizona guards, and he played a big factor in the 10 total fouls between Arizona starting guards Brandon Williams and Justin Coleman.
Martin’s ability to buoy the inconsistent Sun Devil offense was invaluable Saturday, and his cerebral command of the team as a whole carried the team when they needed it most.
“I just felt that I could get to the basket and create,” Martin said. “I wanted to be aggressive so that I could create for me and my teammates. I knew if I could get to the lane, they would bring somebody over to dry and block my shot, so I knew I had the dump off or could draw the foul.”
Martin’s 27-point performance Saturday, coupled with his 31-point outburst in the Sun Devil’s overtime victory over Arizona earlier this season, gives the sophomore 58 combined points in the Sun Devils two meetings against the Wildcats this season.
While every player talks about how important a rivalry game is and how much more it means, Martin backed it up with two absolutely legendary performances on the biggest of stages.
“Every time we play each other, it’s like we’re going to war,” Martin said. “They’re a great team, and they’ve been beating us for a while, so it feels pretty good to beat them on their floor and to sweep them.”
In the game’s early minutes of Saturday’s contest, it was freshman guard Luguentz Dort who carried the ASU offense with eight quick points in the contest’s first six minutes.
He began the game a scorching 4-4 from the field, including a perfect 3-3 from three, before finishing the game with 15 points on 6-11 shooting. His early tenacity helped set the tone for the rest of the game, and while he did earn a technical foul early in the first half, Dort knew the message it sent was much more important than the two points they surrendered.
“I just feel like it brings everybody up,” said a smiling Dort. “I just have to be smart not to talk in somebody’s face, but my teammates saw me doing that and they knew it was time to go.”
The goal now becomes a Pac-12 tournament championship, and after Saturday’s triumph the confidence surrounding this Sun Devil squad has never been higher. With some previously unattainable goals now very much in reach, there’s no reason why this ASU team couldn’t rewrite the history books.
“These games are what you live for,” Hurley said. “To be able to coach in this type of environment, with that fan base, that’s why college basketball is great.”