(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
A barrage of three-pointers and a return to good defensive habits pushed Arizona State to its first Pac-12 win of the season with a 84-73 result over the Washington State Cougars. Hot shooting from sophomore guards Tra Holder and Kodi Justice bouyed the offense, combining for 36 points and six threes.
Outside of the sophomore duo, the Sun Devils were able to come out with a win on a night where they shot just 38.3 percent from the field, making this the worst shooting performance in a win this season. In fact, ASU’s 23 made field goals were two fewer than WSU’s 25 made shots, but ASU was able to force 16 turnovers in an active defensive effort.
“It’s great to get our first conference win,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “I thought our defense was really solid in the first half, and that’s been an issue. A lot of focus always goes on offense and how you shoot the ball, but our defense wasn’t helping us the way it needed to in those first three games in the league, so it was nice to see that effort.”
After ASU jumped out to a quick lead thanks to five points from junior forward Obinna Oleka in the first 2:30 of the game, the Sun Devils went on a 21-2 run over an nine-minute span in the first half.
During that same stretch, the Cougars shot an abysmal 1-for-12 from the field and struggled mightily when junior forward Josh Hawkinson picked up his third foul with 8:18 remaining in the half.
Following a 10-0 WSU run, Holder responded with an and-one layup to swing the tide back into ASU’s favor.
That’s when Justice caught fire.
The sophomore guard scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half, including three bombs from well behind the three-point line.
“That’s the way he (Justice) is,” Hurley said. “I really love coaching him, and you can how much potential he has to keep getting better, and I love the creativity that he shows with his passing.”
On the night, Justice went 6-for-11, 4-for-9 from three and dished out four assists, none more thrilling than his behind-the-back feed to senior forward Willie Atwood, who finished the fast break off with an emphatic two-handed dunk.
“I just saw Willie running the floor hard, and I thought, ‘You got to reward the big for running,’ so I had to find a way to get it to him,” Justice said. “The only way I felt like I could was throwing it behind my back.”
Although the Sun Devils wouldn’t say the game was a must-win, they were the last team to get a win in the conference. With that in mind, Hurley was still comfortable with the position his team is in four games into conference play.
“I think we have a chance to continue to play well and play better,” Hurley said. “We’re obviously happy to win, but I think there are shots out there that we are still capable of making, but it was nice to see us get off to a good start in the game and build the lead in the first half and have them chase us most of the game because we’ve been playing from behind too much early in games.”
ASU will have a chance at its second Pac-12 win when it hosts Washington on Saturday.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com