LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Now the Arizona State Sun Devils will sit and wait to see if their body of work warrants more games.
Coach Bobby Hurley’s team was making its first appearance in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals since 2019 but it couldn’t add to its resume and was dealt a 78-59 loss by rival and No. 2 seed Arizona in semifinal play Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Wildcats (27-6), ranked eighth nationally, advance to meet No. 1 UCLA, which defeated No. 4 Oregon 75-56 in the the earlier semifinal.
ASU (22-12) had earned a spot in the semifinal with a pair of wins earlier this week, first a 63-57 win over No. 11 Oregon State in the opening round, then a notable 77-72 upset of No. 3 USC. Before that game the Sun Devils had been listed as among “the first four out” in most NCAA postseason projections but that victory moved ASU to the right side of the bubble.
Now Hurley and his team have to wait to see if his team stays there after the dust settles from all other conference tournaments. Hurley, who is rounding out his eighth season at the helm, thinks his team is deserving of a spot in the field which will be announced at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“I respect the process. I’ve been through the process and I understand the evaluation process, and you respect other teams that have had good seasons and are being considered as we are. I truly believe, though, that if you take our three best wins and you compare them to other bubble teams, I don’t think it’s close,” Hurley said.
“We’ve demonstrated that we could go away from our home court and win, and that’s a major priority in the NCAA tournament. We won 22 games in a power conference. I mean, how much more do you really have to do? So I think these guys deserve it. The other thing is there’s Quad 1 wins and then there are really good Quad 1 wins. Any time you go on a neutral and beat Creighton or you beat USC on a neutral or you go to Arizona and win, those are serious wins. They’re not sitting on your home court gobbling up a Quad 1 game.”
ASU has 12 wins away from home which is tied for third nationally, with the loss to the Wildcats the first in six games on a neutral court. It has five Quad 1 wins, the most notable one also being the most memorable. That was the 89-88 win over the rival team on Feb. 25 at Arizona’s McKale Center in which the difference was a 60-foot desperation heave at the buzzer by Desmond Cambridge.
The way that game ended, no doubt, made this win for the Wildcats all the more enjoyable.
ASU also had Quad 1 conference road wins at Oregon and Colorado as well a neutral court Quad 1 win over Creighton in the preseason.
Also factoring in the equation are results of other games. Helping ASU were losses Friday by other bubble teams including Rutgers, Mississippi State, Clemson and Oregon and ones earlier this week by Nevada, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State, among others.
Players say they hope their season isn’t over and they, like everyone else, they are a bit anxious.
“Luckily for us we made it till Friday so we only got 36 hours to wait but it’s probably going to feel like a week starting now,” Desmond Cambridge said. “It’s going to be tough. Probably try to not even think about basketball for the next day and let the cards fall where they may.”
“It’s tough, not having any certainty,” D.J. Horne said. “I think we proved enough to say that we deserve to be in that tournament. I hope we get that chance.”
The showdown in the Pac-12 tournament proved to be the rubber match since the the rivals split meetings during the regular season, oddly enough with each winning on the opponents’ court. Arizona was a 69-60 victor at Desert Financial Arena on Dec. 31.
The first half featured two ties and five lead changes and ended with the Wildcats up 35-28.
ASU scored the first four points of the second half with a fast break layup by Frankie Collins cutting the deficit to 35-32.
They were in striking distance even later at 56-52 with 7:06 left, only to have the Wildcats explode for seven points, with a 3-pointer by Pelle Larsson making it 63-52 with 5:32 to go. ASU was not in striking distance again.
ASU shot just 32.3% (21-for-65). Cambridge, who had a season-high 27 in Thursday win, had only eight, going 3-for-10 from the field, Point guard Frankie Collins had 11 with five assists while Jamiya Neal came off the bench ad contributed 11.
Arizona shot 56.4% (31-for-55), benefiting from a 44-30 advantage on the boards and scoring 40 points in the paint. Azuolas Tubelis collected 17 points and nine rebounds with Cedric Henderson and Oumar Ballo shipping in with 14 each.
All credited the Wildcats but said playing three games in as many days took its toll. Arizona had a first round bye.
“I think to a degree the three straight days may have taken its toll late and we kind of ran out of steam,” Hurley said. “Our style, I don’t think, is conducive necessarily to playing multiple days in a row, just how we press and how muchenergy we exert on defense. I think if we were a slower-paced slower-tempo team we might have had a better opportunity to have a chance tonight. But again, they’re an elite team and certainly it’s going to be a hell of a game tomorrow night with UCLA and Arizona.”
Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd thinks the Sun Devils have a good case.
“I think they’re right there,” he said. “They’re a difficult team to play against. I know whatever these experts and all this stuff had ’em right there and I feel like they’re a tournament-worthy team. I know this, I mean, if you match up with them in the NCAA tournament, you’re not going to sleep good. They are a difficult team to play against, and I think that’s a team that can win NCAA tournament games without a doubt in my mind.”
Should ASU be left out of the field they would likely get a berth in the NIT. Hurley hedged when asked about that.
“We’re all in, assuming that what we’ve done, again, in a power conference, winning 22 games and losing 12, we’re not a team that lost like 14 or 15 games and didn’t even reach 20 wins. That’s a lot of wins and a lot of good wins to deny us of that. So that’s where our focus is right now.”
UCLA 75, Oregon 56: Senior point guard Tyger Campbell scored 27 points, including 18 in the second half to lead the top-seeded Bruins (28-4) past No. 4 Oregon. Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaime Jaquez recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bruins played without Jaylen Clark, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year who sustained a season-ending injury in the regular season finale. Freshman center Adem Bona went down in the second half with a shoulder injury and did not return.