TUCSON — Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley emerged from the visitor’s locker room at McKale Center in a white T-shirt, a far cry from the dress shirt and tie he wears on game day. It was quite the celebration in the Sun Devils locker room so the veteran head coach no doubt got soaked courtesy of his jubilant players.
It’s one thing to win. It’s another to beat your nationally ranked rival on its home floor on national television. Not to mention win the way it did. The Sun Devils chalked up an 89-88 upset of No. 7 Arizona in matinee Pac-12 action Saturday, the victory coming after senior Desmond Cambridge Jr. hoisted a shot in from half court at the buzzer stunning the sellout home crowd.
“I still don’t know how to feel. That was the craziest experience, the best play I’ve ever been a part of. It literally hasn’t even set in yet,” Cambridge said.
The game featured 11 ties and 18 lead changes.
“A lot of euphoria in the locker room,” Hurley said. “It was a heck of a shot. Been involved in playing Arizona a number of times over the years and this is just an epic game. I thought the quality of the game was a very high level, very well played. We’re a very good defensive team and that’s like the best we could do and so lot of credit to them. They’re a top program so to come out here and do what we did today is pretty special.”
How big was this win? Well the Sun Devils (20-9, 11-7) came in fighting for their postseason lives. They were projected to be on the outside of the March Madness bubble after a couple of tough home losses in the last two weeks. They were also fighting for a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
There has also been speculation about Hurley’s job security, with the Sun Devils slumping after a 15-3 start.
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Arizona (24-5, 13-5) had a lot to play for too. The Wildcats were in striking distance of UCLA for a Pac-12 regular season title, as well as a possible No. 1 seed come postseason time.
The contest was a far cry from the game the teams played on Dec. 31 in Tempe. Arizona led that by 17 points at the half. ASU came back to get within two points six minutes into the second half but ended up losing by nine, 69-60.
In this one, ASU actually led at the half 46-45. The Sun Devils have struggled at times on offense but the 46 points were the most the team has scored in a half since it got 46 in its 90-73 win over Oregon in Eugene in early January.
The Sun Devils would go toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Wildcats the rest of the game.
Arizona used a second half surge to pull out to a 10-point lead, with a pair of free throws by Cedric Henderson giving the Wildcats a 78-68 lead with 6:30 to play.
The Sun Devils showed the resilience they had early in the season, in keeping their composure despite the hostile environment. The visitors also dealt with other obstacles, one being the absence of true freshman guard Austin Nunez, who was out with a concussion sustained late in Saturday’s 67-59 win over Utah.
The Sun Devils were also in foul trouble much of the second half. Senior forward Warren Washington, point guard Frankie Collins and reserve big Alonzo Gaffney each were called for their third foul early in the second half. Gaffney and wing Devan Cambridge both fouled out.
Yet the Sun Devils found a way, with the Wildcats never able to deliver the knockout blow.
Two free throws by Washington with 3:15 to play cut the deficit to 82-78. A 3-pointer by Desmond further sliced the lead, this time to 82-81 with 2:27 left.
There were three lead changes in the next minute, with Arizona taking an 87-86 advantage on an inside bucket by Pelle Larsson.
But, no, the Sun Devils weren’t done yet. Their first shot at a go-ahead bucket went awry as Horne missed a 3-pointer from the wing with four seconds to play. ASU’s Jamiya Neal fouled Arizona big man Oumar Ballo on the rebound to stop the clock. Ballo missed the first shot but made the second for an 88-86 Arizona lead with 2.9 seconds left.
That set the stage for Cambridge’s heroic shot. Neal inbounded the ball to Cambridge who was about two steps behind the half court stripe when he unleashed the ball.
“I make those shots all the time but that shot, I did not think it was going in,” Cambridge said. “I just wanted it to be a nice miss and everyone in the crowd to go, ‘Ooh.’ When it went in I literally couldn’t scream because, well it still doesn’t make sense to me.”
“They were able to inbound the ball, kid got a dribble and shot right in front of me,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Right when it left his hand, I thought it might have a chance. It was dead on the line and it’s a special moment for that kid and that team. Congrats to them.”
ASU shot 54% (36-for-67) from the field, hitting on 11-for-28 from long distance. Most impressive were the 23 assists on 36 field goals. Five players scored in double figures with Desmond Cambridge netting 19 to go with four rebounds and four assists.
Horne add 18 with seven assists while Washington had 16. Neal, who got additional minutes due to the absence of Nunez, had 12 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Arizona shot 51% (27-for-53) and was led by Henderson with 19. Tubelis, the leading candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, racked up 17 points and nine rebounds. Larsson added 16 and Courtney Ramey 14 with five rebounds and four assists. Arizona also benefited from a 35-28 advantage on the boards as well as a 35-10 advantage in free throw tries.
“I hope people were watching to see the level of the game,” Hurley added. “That’s what postseason asks for. They want teams that could perform like that on a national stage and I think you saw two teams that should be in postseason.”
Cambridge said one thing he’ll remember is the dead silence of the crowd as the shot went in. He’ll be excited about watching the replay.
“When I go and replay that moment, it is probably going to be the best moment in my life. I can’t wait to hear . . . nothing.” he said. “I’ve been a shooter my whole career and I just love shooting the ball. We shoot half court shots all the time. We were actually doing that yesterday just like a friendly competition with the team so I guess it paid off.”
It marked the fourth Quad 1 victory for the Sun Devils with that a significant factor in qualifying for the postseason. ASU now rounds out the regular season with games at UCLA and USC next week. Both of those are also Quad 1 opportunities.