At the end of his team’s one-point victory over Colorado last Thursday night, Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley delivered a fiery locker room speech urging his team to take pride in defending its home court.
“If anyone wants a win here [in the state of Arizona],”
It made no difference that Hurley undoubtedly intended to motivate his players rather than take a dig at Arizona. The second the video hit social media, it provided instant motivation for the Wildcats and juicy fodder for their fans.
Hatred for Hurley reached a crescendo Thursday night at McKale Center as the Arizona crowd welcomed the Arizona State coach with a torrent of boos and then chanted “Bobby, Bobby” over and over again the rest of the night. The Wildcats fed off the frenzied atmosphere, cruising to a 91-75 victory that served as a reminder that winning in bleeping Tucson isn’t very bleeping easy.
It was 12-0 Arizona by the time Arizona State scored its first point. It was 29-12 after a trio of consecutive Lauri Markkanen first-half 3-pointers. It was 44-20 after Chance Comanche connected on a mid-range jump shot just before halftime.
Arizona State cut into the deficit a bit in the second half, but the Sun Devils never closed to any closer than within 12. Hurley’s guard-heavy team had no answer for Markkanen, Dusan Ristic or Comanche in the frontcourt.
The hero was Markkanen, who flashed his NBA potential by tallying 30 points in all sorts of ways. The versatile 7-foot Finnish freshman scorched Arizona State from behind the arc, on mid-range jumpers and in the paint en route to a 12-for-18 shooting performance.
Throw in 18 points from guard Kadeem Allen and 16 from Ristic, and Arizona had more than enough offense to hold off every Arizona State surge. The Wildcats shot 56.7 percent from the floor to improve to 15-2 overall despite a season-ending knee injury to elite freshman Ray Smith and a season-long suspension for leading returning scorer Allonzo Trier.
Will Arizona coach Sean Miller be pleased with his team’s lax second-half defense? Probably not. But will he be proud of the effort and energy with which the Wildcats played while building their lead? Absolutely.
With one resounding victory, Arizona sent a message that Pac-12 teams hoping for a win on the desert road trip have a better chance in Tempe than Tucson.
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