Hurley fuels fire for Arizona State-Arizona matchup

Arizona-Arizona State hasn’t been much of a basketball rivalry, but Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley did, even unintentionally, add some spice to Thursday night’s game in Tucson.

A video showed Hurley, after last week’s home victory over Colorado, rallying his team in the locker room by saying that if a Pac-12 team on the Arizona road swing wanted to get a win, “they better go to (expletive) Tucson.”

Hurley and the Sun Devils (9-8, 2-2 Pac-12) will get their chance against the 16th-ranked Wildcats (15-2, 4-0) in a game that tips off at 9 p.m. ET.

ASU hasn’t won in McKale Center since February 2010 and has just four wins there since the 1982-83, which was the season before Arizona hired coach Lute Olson from Iowa.

Hurley said this week he was just trying to motivate his team.

“Those comments were not directed at Arizona,” he said. “If our travel partner was USC, I would’ve said to go to L.A. if you want to try to get a win.”

That didn’t stop Arizona fans from roasting Hurley on social media, although coach Sean Miller shrugged off the original comments.

“Bobby was a great competitor himself and the challenge as a coach is to get your team motivated, to have your team ready to play,” Miller said.

“Confidence is part of that. There is a lot of different ways to go about instilling that. I don’t think he meant that in a derogatory fashion toward our program or things here in Tucson, as much as making sure his guys believe in themselves.”

Miller is 2-0 against Hurley. Arizona won 94-82 in Tempe last season (when Hurley was ejected late in the game) and 99-61 in Tucson.

The Wildcats enter on a nine-game winning streak and with one of the top defenses in the country. They were 12th nationally in scoring defense (60.8 points per game) after Tuesday night’s game, allowing teams to shoot just 39.1 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from 3-point range.

ASU’s hopes for an upset rest with its 3-point shooting in a guard-heavy lineup. The Sun Devils take more shots from behind the arc (27 per game) than any team in the Pac-12, making 36.3 percent. Guard Torian Graham is the team’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, making 39 percent of his 3-pointers (46 of 118).

“ASU is an outstanding 3-point shooting team,” Miller said. “They play with tremendous freedom, they play at a very fast pace. In transition, they thrive because they have multiple 3-point shooters on the court at once.”

ASU guards Tra Holder (16.8 points per game) and Shannon Evans (15.6) are among the other shooting threats.

Arizona shoots the 3-pointer at a better percentage (38.9) than ASU but relies on it far less. The edge in this matchup is Arizona’s its size and talent up front.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer is 7-foot power forward Lauri Markkanen at 15.9 points, and 7-foot center Dusan Ristic is averaging 16.75 points in conference play and shooting 64.4 percent from the field.

Meanwhile, point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has come off the bench in the four games since returning from a high ankle sprain, has 25 assists and five turnovers in conference games.

Arizona guard Allonzo Trier has not played this season because of an unspecified eligibility issue, although Miller said Monday that he “hopes” the sophomore will have a chance to return this season.