Bobby Hurley’s face was the color of melted butter when he called a timeout with 17 minutes 11 seconds remaining Wednesday night. “We were infuriated,” he said.
Arizona led 48-26 and the Wildcats had already created a new statistic: the 20-20 Club.
At that moment, UA big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Dusan Ristic had already combined for 20 points and 20 rebounds.
ASU’s one big man — well, sort-of-big man — Eric Jacobsen had two points and one rebound. The other Sun Devils on the floor were about the size of a team you’d see in a rec league.
For a few minutes it looked as if ASU’s next option might be 12-year-old Bobby Hurley, sitting in civvies on the end of his father’s bench.
Hurley sighed, scowled and did a foot stomp. Have you seen footage of a guy crushing a beer can against his forehead? That was Hurley.
“We’re in a free fall right now,” said Hurley.
Hurley’s Sun Devils aren’t yet ready to rumble with Sean Miller’s Wildcats, but give him time. As Arizona won 99-61, Hurley was coaching in his 88th college game. Miller was working on number 409. That’s quite a head start.
“I knew that’s how it would play out,” Hurley said after a long chat with his team after the game. “There are people out there that don’t think (Arizona is) a Final Four team. Well, they need to wake up.”
The Wildcats were so good Wednesday they put ASU into a deep slumber.
“We defended them, I think, about as well as we can,” said Miller.
By this time next year, the Sun Devils should no longer suffer a basketball death by inches to Arizona or anyone. In 10 months on the job, Hurley has recruited 6-foot 10-inch Jethro Tshisumpa of Texas, 6-9 Vitaliy Shibel of Ukraine and 6-7 Sam Cunliffe of Seattle. Some recruiting analysts say they are in the hunt for 7-foot Thon Maker, who is the best remaining big man on the board.
If anything, Wednesday’s game marked the end of The Eric Jacobsen era of Sun Devil basketball as it relates to the Wildcats.
It’s not often that Miller, who doesn’t frequently exaggerate, walks into the press room and says that Tarczewski “looks like an NBA center.”
That’s the way it was Wednesday. It was much different 25 years ago when Hurley was a rising star at Duke, and the Blue Devils and the Wildcats staged an epic 103-96 double overtime game at McKale.
It’s ironic that Arizona scored more than 100 in that game, after which the fans went home elated. On Wednesday, the Wildcats sat on the ball in the final 25 seconds, refusing to score 100 or to really rub it in.
“It’s a whole different animal here as a coach,” said Hurley. “You’ve got a little more control when you’ve got the ball in your hands. I felt helpless at times.”
Wednesday’s game will be forgotten soon enough, but the time for giving Hurley a shoulder to cry on is gone. Lute Olson started at a much lower place in Tucson than Hurley did in Tempe.
In his first season at ASU, Bill Frieder lost 71-50 at McKale. Herb Sendek’s first Sun Devil team lost here 71-47. It might be that Hurley is starting at a lower point than both of those guys.
Low? Jacobsen committed a foul on the game’s first possession Wednesday. He got his second foul 4 ½ minutes into the game. After that, the Sun Devils had to guard Tarczewski and Ristic with 6-7 Willie Atwood, or someone shorter.
Arizona scored 52 points in the paint. That’s what Wilt Chamberlain used to do. That’s how lopsided the physical matchups were.
“That number is absolutely insane,” said Hurley. “We were trying to stop them in the paint.”
When Miller left the UA locker room, the mood was decidedly more upbeat. When he sat down on press row for his radio interview, he put on reading glasses. Maybe he needed to be sure he was seeing the correct figures.
It’s not often a Pac-12 team outrebounds its opponent 50-26, or that a point guard — any point guard — has a rivalry game with a stat line that says “7 assists, 0 turnovers.”
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has taken command of Arizona’s point guard spot, has been superb recently. He was the shortest player on the court but no one had a bigger impact, not even Tarczewski and the other UA big men.
Miller put his reading glasses away and left McKale Center — on a six-game winning streak, in first place in the Pac-12 and with a week to prepare for a trip to Colorado and Utah.
It might be the last time this year he can take a deep breath and appreciate how far his team has come.