Bobby Hurley has a habit of clasping his hands behind his back when he's upset with officiating. Usually he's shouting his opinion in a referee's direction at the same time.
On Saturday, the Arizona State coach did a lot of both, particularly in the second half of his team's game against Utah at Wells Fargo Arena.
When senior forward Obinna Oleka was called for a goal tend with just over six minutes left, Hurley was yelling with his hands at his rear. Minutes later, as junior guard Kodi Justice was called for a block in a key situation, Hurley again reacted with a similar posture. Two possessions after that, junior guard Tra Holder was called for a foul in the backcourt when Utah's Kyle Kuzma appeared to lean into the contact and throw his elbow at Holder.
That's when Hurley had seen enough. He broke from his typical posture and pointed his finger directly at one official as other ASU staff members and players tried to restrain him.
Ultimately, Hurley wasn't able to do anything to help his Sun Devils get the key calls in the second half of their 88-82 loss to Utah. The Sun Devils dropped to 9-8 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12 with the defeat. Utah improved to 11-4 overall and 2-1 in league play, rebounding from a loss to Arizona in Tucson on Thursday.
“I’m just going to take a pass on that one,” Hurley said when asked about the officiating late in the game. “There’s a lot I could say, but I’m going to move on and be a good boy.”
Kuzma missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw after the Holder foul, but the Sun Devils found themselves on the wrong side of too many calls down the stretch. Even though Hurley didn't want to expand on his comment, Justice had some additional perspective.
“There are going to be games where you have to play through that,” Justice said. “But today, I felt like every tough call just didn’t go our way. Especially being at home, we should have have gotten one or two here or there because we’re the home team.”
The Sun Devils fought valiantly down the stretch all the same, recovering from a 10 point deficit at 77-67 with 2:53 left to trail by as little as 82-80 with 38 seconds left. During that stretch Justice had a put back three-point play and junior guard Shannon Evans scored creatively off the bounce.
But ASU was hurt by more than questionable officiating. Hurley very directly blamed his team's defense in the second half. The Utes made 20 of their 29 field goal attempts after halftime, a stunning 69 percent from the field that included 5 of 8 from the three-point line.
ASU's defense has been a problem all season, as the Sun Devils have given up 80-plus points in more than half of their games and are last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
"What it came down to, really, it was a tale of two halves for us defensively," Hurley said. "42 percent field goal percentage defense the first half and the second half almost 70. Some of that was Kuzma, a really good player, a very experienced player, made a lot of shots out there."
Kuzma led all scores with 26 points on 11 of 17 shooting, including 3 of 4 from behind the three-point line. He had 19 second half points as Utah turned a 37-34 halftime deficit into a 56-48 lead. From there, the Sun Devils were in chase mode the rest of the game and simply didn't get enough stops -- or calls -- to resurrect a lead.
“Their size with the high-low hurt us,” Hurley said. “Then we tried to come off some of those guys we didn’t feel were great perimeter shooters and got burned with that a few times. It was kind of a little bit of everything that hurt us. Once we were behind, we had to trade off with trying to create some turnovers and sacrificing a few where they got some dunks against our pressure. But we really didn’t have a whole lot of choice.”
Evans led the Sun Devils with 21 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Most of his points came from point blank range after breaking down the defense off the dribble. He made just 1 of 6 three-pointers. Justice had 17 points and Holder 16 for the Sun Devils.
As Utah heated up, ASU cooled off. The Sun Devils made 6 of 16 three-pointers in the first half but just 2 of 11 in the second half. It resembled their performance at Cal a week ago when a 1 of 11 performance behind the arc in the second half helped seal their fate.
Whereas in the first half it was ASU that had the big runs -- a 9-0 spurt to tie the game after Utah opened an 11-2 lead, and a 12-0 rush after that -- the Utes were able to string together some one-sided stretches in the second half when it really mattered.
“I’m proud of how the guys fought and pushed the game to the limit,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “But our whole mindset this weekend was to protect our home court. It’s premium to win home games. We came up a little short on that.”