Guards propel No. 3 Arizona State to lofty ranking

TEMPE, Ariz. — After Arizona State’s comeback victory over Xavier in Las Vegas in late November, coach Bobby Hurley and his staff got into a discussion about guards.

Senior point guard Tra Holder’s 40-point game likely was the trigger.

“We were excited about beating Xavier and winning that championship,” Hurley said. “We were talking about guards, and I think I said, ‘This is going to be Guard U.'”

Takes one to know one.

Hurley, who helped Duke to two NCAA titles as their point guard, and his voracious guard group will take a No. 3 ranking and 11-0 start into their final non-conference game of the season against Pacific (5-7) at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday afternoon.

The Arizona State marketing department had “Guard U” warmups made up before the Sun Devils’ game against St. John’s on Dec. 8, and they were on full display before a 95-85 victory at Kansas on Dec. 10.

“I think it is pretty clever,” said the 6-foot-1 Holder, who leads the Sun Devils with a 21.5 scoring average. “Pretty cool. I’m glad I got my shirt. I’m trying to get a couple more.”

The all-purpose Holder also is averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists, but it is hardly a one-man backcourt. Senior Shannon Evans II is averaging 17.5 points and 4.6 assists, and senior Kodi Justice is averaging 13.8 and 3.4 rebounds.

Freshman Remy Martin, who has made a strong impression in the last few weeks, is averaging 9.8 points.

All four have the ball-handling skills of a point guard, and ASU has had success by playing three on the floor at the same time. Martin had 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a 95-61 victory over Longwood on Monday.

Martin attended the nationally prominent Sierra Canyon high school program in Chatsworth, Calif., last year, where he was teammates with Duke freshman and top NBA prospect Marvin Bagley III.

“Remy is just so electric,” Hurley said. “He pushes the tempo. People get behind Remy. It is hard not to like watching him play. When the ball is in his hands, you are not really sure what he is going to do. You know it is going to be very good. It is always very interesting.”

Arizona State is eighth in NCAA Division I with a 90.6 scoring average and is 20th with a 50.5 field goal percentage.

Guard U is not afraid to guard, either.

The Sun Devils limited Vanderbilt to 34.3 percent shooting from the floor in a 76-64 victory last Sunday, and held Longwood to 33.8 percent.

“The opposing team probably thinks we have some defensive liabilities because we are smaller,” Holder said.

Pacific has lost three in a row after a three-game winning streak put it over .500 for the first time this season. The Tigers’ most recent setback was an 81-76 home loss to UNLV. They will open West Coast Conference play at No. 12 Gonzaga next Thursday.

Junior transfer guard Roberto Gallinat leads Pacific with a 14.3 scoring average. He has made 20 3-pointers and had 20 points against UNLV, one short of his season high. Guard Miles Reynolds is averaging 11.8 points and forward Anthony Townes is at 10.4.

“I always talk to the guys about don’t let the moment get to big for you,” coach Damon Stoudamire said earlier in the season. “Don’t let the game break you down.”

Stoudamire, in his second season, knows Friday’s venue well after spending his college career at the University of Arizona.