The Arizona-Arizona State feud rivals any in college sports. It may lack the national exposure of Alabama-Auburn in football, or Duke-North Carolina, but the historic roots from which the Territorial Cup rivalry stems fuel vitriol matching the most heated in sports.
So, when second-year Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley declared after last week’s win over Colorado that opponents making the Grand Canyon State swing would “have to go to [expletive] Tucson” to get a win, it was a considerably mild statement by the rivalry’s standards. Worse is presumably said about opponents in any locker room — or living room — around America.
To that end, Hurley explained to reporters this week he sought to motivate his team.
Still, that speech making it out of the locker room and onto social media created a situation wherein one sentence implicitly raises the bar for Arizona State.
When it comes to the last three decades of basketball, the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry has been more Blade of Grass versus Lawnmower than Duke versus North Carolina. Ask most Arizona fans, and they’ll label UCLA the Wildcats’ primary rivalry in basketball — not Arizona State.
The Sun Devils enjoyed a 5-0 stretch in 2008 through 2009, 6-of-7 into 2010, and 7-of-11 through 2012. That also coincided with Arizona State’s best teams since Byron Scott laced ’em up in Tempe, and Arizona’s worst since Lute Olson transformed Tucson into a Basketball Town.
Should Hurley get Arizona State to the level that’s expected of him, his f’ing Tucson quip will be remembered as a seminal moment, a moment when Sparky took a stand and planted his pitchfork in the Grand Canyon State. Shane Dale evaluated the speech through that lens, comparing it to the moment former Arizona football coach Larry Smith learned to hate A-State — and just before the Wildcats began a decade-long unbeaten streak in the Territorial Cup game.
Should the Sun Devils struggle, another Arizona sports moment comes to mind: Buddy Ryan declaring “you’ve got a winner in town” before embarking on a 12-20 tenure as Arizona (then Phoenix) Cardinals head coach.
Arizona State’s not off to the best start, losing its next game at home to Utah — which Arizona beat the night before. The Wildcats beat Colorado a few hours later to complete the home sweep, and now carry a nine-game winning streak into Thursday’s matchup with the Sun Devils.
Hurley’s job isn’t defined by the Sun Devils’ play on Thursday, or in Year 2 as a whole. Arizona State’s a work in progress, and a 2017 recruiting class currently ranked 20th in the nation suggests progress is coming.
The coach may have unintentionally moved up the deadline to compete for a Pac-12 championship with his speech going viral, however.
Did the Pac-12 Make the Right Decision with Dillon Brooks?
Defending Pac-12 champion Oregon is a much different team without star Dillon Brooks in the lineup at full strength. The first few weeks of the season compared to the Ducks’ excellent play to open the conference schedule prove that.
So, Dana Altman can breathe a sigh of relief — he won’t lose Brooks to suspension following the guard’s ejection from a game last week at Washington State. Brooks flailed a leg and connected with Washington State forward Josh Hawkinson in a… most unfortunate area.
The Pac-12 declined to suspend Brooks, deeming his ejection sufficient. In the wake of Duke guard Grayson Allen’s suspension for repeatedly tripping opponents, national college basketball media attention’s turned to player conduct. Allen is the subject of intense scrutiny, most recently following a dive into the Florida State bench.
Will Brooks be subject to similar attention?
A Pivotal Season at San Diego State
Since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2006, San Diego State has been a postseason stalwart. Even the less successful seasons under Steve Fisher have resulted in an NIT appearance, including last year’s run to Madison Square Garden.
With a loss last Saturday at Boise State, the Aztecs fell to 0-3 in a down Mountain West Conference. A win Tuesday over San Jose State improved Fisher’s club to 9-7, but any hope of the NCAA Tournament rests entirely on three nights in Vegas come March. The NIT may be out of the question, barring a difficult trek to the MW regular-season championship.
This marks a pivotal campaign in the trajectory of San Diego State basketball. Certain moments test the longevity of programs: coaching changes, NCAA sanctions, a down year. State’s response for the next two months sets the tone for the program’s long-term future.
Fisher has done an impressive job building a program virtually from scratch, and creating a loyal following in a city notorious for fickle rooting interests. Maintaining that with a decade-long streak of postseasons and 20-plus wins may be the greatest challenge Fisher has faced since the rebuild began.
A Los Angeles Legacy at Pepperdine
John Wooden’s impact is felt across college basketball, but nowhere more profoundly than at the epicenter of his success: Los Angeles.
Trek west on the Pacific Coast Highway from UCLA’s Westwood campus, and it won’t take you long to feel Wooden’s legacy radiate stronger than ever. In Malibu, Pepperdine assistant John Impelman continues the family business, as examined in this excellent feature from the West Coast Conference.
Impelman has made his own name in and around Los Angeles, working for the renowned Double Pump Inc., and playing at Occidental. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Oxy was home to another well-known basketball lover: outgoing President Barack Obama. In a neat twist, Obama presented a Medal of Freedom last year to Wooden’s most recognized pupil, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar.