Arizona State’s men’s basketball team is focused on the end goal, but also adheres to the old adage “one game at a time.”
The Sun Devils (6-12, 2-6) have lost six of their last seven games and there is no respite. It’s quite the opposite with the next three games concluding a six game streak against nationally ranked foes. Next up is a 9 p.m. showdown against No. 19 USC (18-3, 8-3) Thursday at Desert Financial Arena. It will air on ESPN2.
Then it’s No. 3 UCLA (16-2, 8-1) coming in on Saturday and No. 7 Arizona (17-2, 7-1) on Monday — a tough 94 hours.
“It’s a very exciting week ahead,” said guard DJ Horne, who is averaging a team-high 13.8 points. “It’s an opportunity for us to turn things around in the season. The mindset of the guys is where they need to be. Confidence is definitely growing. We’ve taken steps in the right direction, we’re improving in team. The season is not where we wanted to be, but we keep building, the guys are still invested in the team. It’s a good feeling.”
The Sun Devils are buried deep in the Pac-12 rankings, so their hope of making the NCAA playoffs will hinge solely on winning the conference tournament next month. Of course, it’s far but to have a shot, they have to play better. It is the objective.
Players are hoping to have a similar run to Oregon State last season when they battled in the conference tournament to win it and eventually qualified for the NCAA Elite Eight.
“We’ve dug ourselves a deep hole. It’s going to take a lot of wins to turn things around. Every game is played game by game,” Horne said. “Look at last season. Oregon State had a rocky season and they got away seven straight, catapulting them into the conference tournament. As bad as it was, we still have light at the end of the tunnel. “
Head coach Bobby Hurley has seen progress on that front. The team played perhaps their best game of the season when they lost to Stanford two weeks ago, 79-76.
ASU is coming off a 67-56 loss to rival Arizona on Saturday, with the Wildcats not putting the Sun Devils in the rearview mirror until the final 5 minutes. Between those games, there was a road loss to USC.
“We just want to see guys compete and they did. They beat the whole game. There wasn’t a single time where I was disappointed with the effort or the strength perspective. mental,” Hurley said. “That’s why you’re a competitor. That’s why you play in the Pac 12, to have a chance to play against the top three teams in the top 20.”
ASU still isn’t scoring much, giving them no room for error when it comes to rebounds, free throws and turnovers.
Hurley said the team is healthier than it has been and will have all of its players – except for second-year forward Marcus Bagley – who is still struggling with a knee problem. The Sun Devils were down to just seven scholarships when they faced USC last week.
“We’re healthier. We can prepare normally with a full roster of players minus Marcus,” Hurley said. “I’ve been feeling great in our practices the last few days. We really need to rebound these next three games. These teams are big and athletic. They’re exceptional rebounding teams and USC’s length and defense is one of the nation’s best.”
Hurley praised 6-foot-10 junior forward Isaiah Mobley (14.9 ppg, 8.5 rounds per game), who leads a parade of four Trojans with a double-digit average.
“He really should be considered the conference player of the year, the way he impacts the game in so many ways. You have even more respect for him when you watch a bunch of games and you see his ability to score on the blocks, but he can shoot all three and he’s an elite passer. He’s the best passer in the conference, so he’s a pretty special player,” Hurley said.
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