Arizona State, off to best start in years, faces SMU

Arizona State looks to win its seventh consecutive game when it battles SMU in nonconference play on Wednesday night at Dallas.

The Sun Devils (8-1, 2-0 Pac-12) are off to their best nine-game start since the 2018-19 season — the last season they made the NCAA Tournament. They are fresh off opening conference play with wins over Colorado and Stanford by a total of five points — 60-59 over the host Buffaloes on Thursday and 68-64 over the visiting Cardinal on Sunday.

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said the team’s depth is keeping players fresh, while forward Warren Washington points to Hurley’s demanding tactics as a key component in the strong start.

“Playing for someone like Bobby, he is just tough-minded, just a competitor in general,” Washington said after the Stanford contest. “He always preaches to us that you can’t depend on scoring and you can’t look at scoring as something to judge whether you played good or not.

“So, I felt like we all just want to win and to win we gotta play defense. Defense wins championships.”

Arizona State’s only stumble was a 67-66 overtime loss at Texas Southern on Nov. 13. The Sun Devils’ resume includes an 87-62 trouncing of then-No. 20 Michigan on Nov. 17.

The Sun Devils remain without suspended forward Marcus Bagley, who said on social media that he was punished due to something he said to Hurley.

Hurley’s update was brief: “At this point, Marcus has stepped away and we are going to support him, and at the moment, that’s all I’m going to say.”

SMU (3-5) is coming off back-to-back setbacks against Texas A&M and Jackson State as it adjusts to new coach Rob Lanier.

Star guard Kendric Davis transferred to Memphis after last season, and that has provided an opportunity for guard Zhuric Phelps.

Phelps averaged 3.8 points in 32 games (one start) last season, but he has slid seamlessly into a leading role. He leads the Mustangs with a 19.6 scoring average and has topped 20 points four times.

“I just want him to play (aggressively), and when you get tired, we’ve got enough guys — we’ll put somebody else in,” Lanier recently said of Phelps. “But attack it like that and he’s a guy who impacts the game on both ends at a high level, and he can do that.”

SMU is 0-4 versus Arizona State, but Wednesday marks the first meeting between the teams since the 1995-96 season.

–Field Level Media