No. 11 Arizona State gears up for rebuilt Oregon
TEMPE, Ariz. -- No. 11 Arizona State has taken the program to the next level this season. Now it is doing the same to its home court
Because of an increase in demand for tickets, the school removed a painted wooden wall that blocked the top six rows of seats in Wells Fargo Arena over the break. The wall was erected during coach Herb Sendek's time.
Coach Bobby Hurley stopped practice and pointed out its significance as the Sun Devils prepare for their first home weekend of Pac-12 play.
"I brought everyone over and said, 'Look, this is what you guys have done. You should be proud of that. There is such an increased demand, and you guys have done it,'" Hurley said.
The Sun Devils (13-2, 1-2) will face rebuilt Oregon (11-5, 1-2) on Thursday before playing host to Oregon State on Saturday. They opened league play with a demanding road stretch at Arizona, Colorado and Utah, stopping a two-game losing streak in an 80-77 victory at Utah on Sunday.
"We're learning to play as a highly ranked team, knowing that our opponents are going to give us their best shot. We were court-stormed (at Colorado). So there are a lot of new things happening that have not happened at Arizona State."
Arizona State faced a heavy dose of zone defense at Colorado and Utah, and its shooting suffered. The Sun Devils shot 37.9 percent in an 84-78 loss at Arizona, 35.5 percent in a 90-81 overtime loss at Colorado and 44.8 percent at Utah. A team that thrives on perimeter shooting and drive-and-kicks, Arizona State made 25 of last 83 3-point attempts in the last three games, 30.1 percent.
"We have to get back to being more efficient on offense and executing a little better," Hurley said.
"I didn't do as great a job against Colorado of getting more movement into our offense against their zone. We did some things in practice leading in to Utah that helped get some more movement. We can't just stand and move the ball around with no movement against zone defenses."
Guard Shannon Evans, averaging 16.9 points a game, missed all 14 three-point attempts against Arizona and Colorado before hitting 5-of-7 on his way to a team-high 22 points at Utah.
A talk with former ASU All-American James Harden, who remains close to the program, seemed to make a difference.
"The day before the (Utah) game, I talked to James and he was saying, 'It happens,'" Evans said. "Everybody goes through it. You have to try to get easy baskets at first, and stay with your shot. The first shot at Utah went in, and the basket got a little bit bigger.
"Once I made one, I knew it was over. I'm hot with one shot."
Tra Holder leads ASU and the Pac-12 at 21.4 points a game. Evans leads with 43 3-pointers and Holder has 40.
Guard Payton Pritchard, the only regular contributor returning from the Ducks' 2017 Final Four team, is averaging 15.0 points a game. Elijah Brown (12.9), Troy Brown (12.3) and Paul White (10.8) also are in double figures. Reserve center Kenny Wooten leads the Pac-12 with 50 blocked shots, 3.1 per game. Pritchard has made 37 3-pointers and Elijah Brown has made 36.
Oregon is outrebounding opponents by an average of six a game and has limited them to 39.7 shooting from the field, but the Ducks shot 36.2 percent in a 76-64 loss to Oregon State on Friday, their second loss in three games.
Finding a workable rotation has occupied Ducks coach Dana Altman in the early season. Transfers White and Elijah Brown are averaging 24 minutes a game and three freshmen including Troy Brown and Wooten are averaging 19 or more minutes game.
"They are down," Altman told the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard about his team. "That's part of a long season. With what we have coming up, they should be really concerned. I've been concerned with our offense all year. Our ball movement hasn't been good all year. We talk about it and stress that. The next four games is our toughest stretch, so we better get ready."
The Ducks finish the trip at No. 17 Arizona and then play host to USC and UCLA.
Updated January 10, 2018