Sun Devils set to start Pac 12 play against Washington State

·4 min read

Arizona State basketball coach Bobby Hurley always seeks out the best competition he can find to fill out his non-conference schedule. But with 10 new players on the active roster maybe this year's slate was too tall an order.

The Sun Devils (2-5) are coming off three losses at the Battle 4 Atlantis and now head into Pac-12 play looking for something positive. ASU begins the conference schedule with a 5:30 p.m. game Wednesday at Desert Financial Arena against Washington State (5-1).

The game will air on the Pac-12 Network.

ASU was 2-2 through the first four games with those losses by a combined three points. Then came the trip to the Bahamas in where the Sun Devils lost to No. 4 Baylor 75-63, Syracuse 92-84 and Loyola-Chicago 77-59.

"I think we're still trying to find an identity. If you look at our stats, we're kind of flat with our opponent in different categories," Hurley said. "For example, last year we were very poor in rebounding and we were really good at turnover differential. So we could kind of hang our hat on creating some turnovers, take the pressure off our offense that way. The rebounding was always an issue but this year it seems like there isn't a weakness that's so obvious but we just haven't had something we could hang our hat on yet."

The Sun Devils have yet to play a game with their entire roster and that will again be the case as sophomore forward Marcus Bagley (10 ppg, 4 rpg) has been ruled out for the game but Hurley doesn't think the knee injury his player aggravated will be a long-term issue. Bagley has missed the last four games.

Senior forward Kimani Lawrence (11.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg) has chalked up four double-doubles and is one of three players averaging double figures, the others being D.J.Horne (11.9 ppg) and Bagley. Two others are close, guards Luther Muhammad (9.7 ppg) and Marreon Jackson (9.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.2 apg).

Hurley also singled out the progress of his 6-foot-10 Canadian freshman Enoch Boakye (4.4 ppg, 4 rpg), who has come in and helped give the Sun Devils a formidable presence in the paint.

"I think Enoch took a big step. He was probably the biggest positive on our trip. Just how he competed at times and rebounded," Hurley said. "He appears to be catching up to the speed of the college game and getting his legs under him more after all the time he missed so I can see his role continue to expand as the season progresses."

Washington State is expected to be much improved under second-year coach Kyle Smith. The Cougars have not played the schedule ASU has, with the loss coming to Eastern Washington and the wins over the likes of Winthrop, Idaho, UC Santa Barbara, Seattle and Alcorn State.

The Cougars have three players averaging double figures in junior guard Tyrell Roberts (14 ppg), junior guard Noah Williams (13.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and senior guard Michael Flowers (13.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Hurley said finishing strong has to be a priority.

"It's how we finish halves in two games, in the first half of the Baylor game and the first half of the Syracuse game. I thought our defense through the first four games was good even though our offense struggled some. Then in the last two games we gave up 55 percent and 60 percent from the field so you're not going to win a lot of games with those type of numbers," Hurley said.

Hurley doesn't regret putting his team up against quality competition despite the outcome.

"We felt happy to be in that type of event. It felt like every team we played and every team that was there was an NCAA Tournament team so to play that level of competition is hard to pass up," Hurley said.

Boakye agreed.

"I've been adjusting and learning to play at the next level. The pace of play, and learning to play hard every time I step on the floor. High school is way different than college," he said. "I liked going up against Baylor, just seeing, getting a taste, because they're supposed to be one of the best teams, seeing how they play and if I'm able to keep up with them. It shows you how far you are away from where you need to be at."

Diogu to have number retired

ASU will retire the No. 5 jeresey of Ike Diogu's in festivities on Jan. 15 at Desert Financial Arena when the Sun Devils take on Colorado with tip off set for and to be televised by ESPN2.

Diogu played at ASU from 2002 to 2005, went on to play in the NBA through 2012, then went overseas. He also competed in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics for Nigeria.

He was named MVP of the 2017 FIBA Afrobasket tournament after averaging 22 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@gannett.com or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sun Devils set to start Pac 12 play against Washington State