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Arizona ‘1 of few teams’ that can win NCAA Tournament

After stealing one from rival Arizona at the McKale Center in dramatic fashion last year, the Arizona State Sun Devils men’s basketball team couldn’t replicate that same success in a lopsided 105-60 loss to Tommy Lloyd’s squad on Saturday.

Entering the matchup, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley already felt the Wildcats were a Final Four-caliber team. After seeing them in person, that thinking was solidified even more.

“They’re a very explosive team. I’ve watched a lot of college games, I watch my brother’s team quite a bit. I think Arizona is one of a few teams in my opinion that can win the whole thing right now,” Hurley told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday. “Seeing them live, they have (Oumar Ballo) around the basket and is so dominant. Caleb Love is hitting contested 25-footers.

“I wouldn’t say they were out for revenge,” the head coach added. “I would say they’re very good and have been able to do that to a few teams this year in our league in some league games, especially at McKale Center.”

With Arizona’s win over ASU, the Wildcats now sit 11-3 in conference play and 20-5 overall. They currently hold the top spot in the Pac-12 with a 0.5-game lead over the Washington State Cougars (11-4, 20-6) and are the No. 4 ranked team in the Associated Press top 25 poll.

Leading the way for Arizona has been Love, who is averaging 18.8 points on 43.4% shooting and 35.2% from deep, five rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

Ballo meanwhile continues to be a force down low behind 12 points, 9.8 rebounds, and one assist per game.

But regardless of how much firepower the Wildcats possess, the Sun Devils’ showing in Tucson was unacceptable to Hurley.

So instead of taking Sunday off as is typical for Hurley and Co. after a Saturday game, the team was back in the film room along with getting their conditioning right again the very next day.

“It’s hard to stop everything that they do, but you can’t hurt yourself, especially on the road and we unfortunately had some untimely turnovers in the first half,” Hurley said. “A game that should have been a lot closer at the half ended up being 18 points at the half. We dug a big hole for ourselves in like the last six minutes of the first half.”

“It’s painful,” the head coach added of losing to Arizona. “It’s something I take very personally after doing this now my ninth year. I understand what the rivalry feels like, what it means to both fanbases and how important that game is so to not perform the way we necessarily have to, I have to take all the bullets for that. I have to do a better job making sure we’re more competitive in a game like Arizona.”

The second game of the season between ASU and Arizona takes place at Desert Financial Arena Feb. 28.

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