No. 20 Arizona State aims for rare 7-0 start
TEMPE — No. 20 Arizona State is taking big steps in coach Bobby Hurley’s third season.
The Sun Devils used a 102-86 victory over then-No. 15 Xavier in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational last Friday to leap into the AP Top 25 this week for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
They will attempt to reach another marker — a 7-0 start for the first time since a team led by Byron Scott, Fat Lever and Alton Lister got there in 1980-81 — against the San Francisco Dons (3-2) of the West Coast Conference on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.
“That’s what we came here to begin … that process of trying to be a relevant program, a team that could compete at the highest level and win championships,” said Hurley, who took the University of Buffalo to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2015 before joining Arizona State.
“We played against very good programs in Vegas, so just excited to see those guys play so well.”
Sun Devils senior guard Tra Holder had a career-high 40 points against Xavier and was named the Pac-12 player of the week, while fellow senior guards Shannon Evans scored 22 points and Kodi Justice added 16.
Arizona State overcame a 15-point, first-half deficit and scored 58 points in the second period against the Musketeers, who eliminated state-rival Arizona from the NCAA tournament in the Elite Eight last season.
Holder, Evans II and Justice made 26-of-45 field goal attempts (58 percent) and 13-of-24 3-pointers (54 percent) against Xavier, and Justice scored 26 points when the Sun Devils overcame a nine-point deficit to beat Kansas State 92-90 in the Las Vegas semifinals.
Arizona State scored at least 90 points in all six games, and interior contributions from redshirt freshman forward Romello White (15.6 points a game) and junior college transfer center De’Quon Lake (12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds) give it a balance that was lacking last season.
The Sun Devils are shooting 54.2 percent from the field, third in NCAA Division I through games of Wednesday, and is third in scoring with an average of 95.7 points. Xavier had not given up 100 points since a loss to Kansas in the 1999 Great Alaska Shootout.
“This is the best offensive team by far that I’ve coached,” Hurley told reporters after the Xavier game. “There are many ways that we can attack an opponent.”
San Francisco, which was 20-13 last season, had a three-game winning streak snapped in a 79-72 home loss to Cal Santa Barbara on Tuesday. The Dons led by six points late in the second half but were done in by 35.5 percent shooting from the floor. They were 6-for-33 on 3-pointers.
“You have to make shots to win this game,” Dons coach Kyle Smith said. “I think we’re a good-shooting team, but we’ve had very poor shooting in the first five games and it’s cost us. We have to get better. Maybe going on the road will clear our heads a little bit.
“(Arizona State is) one of the best offensive teams in the country.”
Guard Souley Boum, a 6-foot-3 freshman from Oakland Tech, leads the Dons with a 15.0 scoring average. He was a three-tome Oakland Athletic League player of the year. Boum came off the bench in every game this season but is averaging 22.6 minutes, third on the team.
San Francisco senior forward Chase Foster is averaging 14.2 points and 5.4 rebounds, and sophomore guard Jordan Ratinho is averaging 10.4 points.