The ejection of Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley from his first-ever Pac-12 game was a good indication of its outcome, but not necessarily the way in which it happened.
Hurley's Sun Devils clawed back from a 16 point second half deficit to get within two possessions of rival Arizona before the first of the coach's two technical fouls in the game's final 74 seconds. The officiating had drawn the ire of Hurley all game, not his team.
The technical foul was untimely, but Hurley said he didn't regret it, nor the way his team competed in a 94-82 loss to the No. 8 Wildcats at Wells Fargo Arena, which dropped ASU to 10-4 overall and 0-1 in league play. Arizona improved to 13-1 and 1-0.
"I really wouldn't have changed anything that I did today in terms of anything that happened," Hurley said. "That's as far as I'm going to comment anything about that, other than I always want the spotlight to be on the performers and the guys in the game and it shouldn't be about anything more than that and that goes for all of us, the coaches, officials, all of us. It should be about the players. The players should decide the games."
More than anyone else, Arizona senior Gabe York did.
ASU mistakenly left the Wildcats' leading three-point shooter open and double teamed off the ball on the first of York's back-to-back three-pointers that turned a 58-51 Arizona advantage into a 64-53 lead at the 8:40 mark of the second half that ultimately proven insurmountable. York had a team-high 22 points in the game, including 17 in the second half.
"In a stretch where the game was still pretty close I thought his three-point shots kind of opened things up for them," Hurley said.
Arizona expanded its lead to a game-high 16 points with 5:46 to play before the Sun Devils teased with the possibility of a near-miraculous comeback.
Sophomore guard Kodi Justice hit an acrobatic three-pointer and was fouled, leading to a four-point play On ASU's next possession, junior forward Willie Atwood hit two foul shots and the Sun Devils had a 6-0 run in 14 seconds of action.
ASU ultimately pulled within six points at the 2:49 mark on back-to-back baskets by sophomore guard Tra Holder and a remarkable dunk by junior forward Obinna Oleka, but didn't get closer.
Hurley's first of two technical fouls came with 1:14 left after junior forward Savon Goodman -- who returned to action after a four game absence for unspecific reasons -- was called for a foul. Tension had been building all game between Hurley in the Pac-12 officials, including in the first half when Hurley had been warned.
Arizona put the game out of reach at the foul line.
Sophomore point guard Tra Holder had a game-high 24 points for the Sun Devils on 16 shots with four assists and just one turnover, an impressive display that included several contested shots off the dribble against Arizona's hard hedging ball screens.
“You know ASU has a really solid basketball team and you could feel it throughout the game," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "This is the most fire powered group we have gone up against in playing them. They score from so many different positions on the court. Tra Holder is a really difficult matchup and I thought we did a good job on him. He had 24 points and four assists. That says a lot about who he is in this conference. We knew that going in."
A dominant rebound and second-chance team all season, ASU wasn't able to beat a longer Wildcats squad on the boards Sunday, particularly in the second-half, when Arizona dominated the glass. It made for too much for ASU to overcome given that Arizona also shot 55.6 percent in the game, made 7 of 12 three-pointers, had 42 points in the paint, and only committed eight turnovers.
"I think our rebounding and taking care of the ball were the difference," Miller said.
Though the Sun Devils never led in the second half, hot perimeter shooting and success on the glass early helped them to a 28-19 lead on a 12-2 run highlighted by a strong sequence from Oleka which included two three-pointers. In the game Oleka had 17 points on six of seven shooting from the field and 27 minutes of action, clearly his best performance as a Sun Devil to this point.
After Miller called a timeout, Arizona regrouped and proceeded to go on a 14-0 run of its own, with the Sun Devils unable to to score for five-plus minutes. Even before that, there were signs of trouble, with ASU having just three assisted baskets on 14 field goals in the half as it struggled to handle Arizona's approach to ball screen defense.
Holder hit a 3-pointer to make Arizona's lead 41-35 at halftime. ASU never got closer than a three point deficient the rest of the game.