TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State jumped 11 spots in the AP poll this week to reach the top five for the first time since 1981, but the Sun Devils are hungry for more.
“We feel like what we did (to move from) 16 to five isn’t going to get us from five to one,” senior guard Shannon Evans II said. “At the end of the day, we want to be one, so there’s more steps we’ve got to take to be No. 1.”
The Sun Devils, 9-0 for the first time since the 1973-74 season after beating then-No. 2 Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse last Sunday, will try to take the next step in a home game against Vanderbilt (3-6) at Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Arizona State is one of six undefeated NCAA Division I programs, and it is attempting to start 10-0 for the first time in school history. The Sun Devils were one of three teams to receive first-place votes in the most recent poll, after Villanova and Michigan State.
Coach Bobby Hurley, whose Duke career included plenty of experience at the top levels of the college polls, has encouraged the Sun Devils to embrace their ranking. They have not been ranked higher since 1980-81, when the Fat Lever/Byron Scott/Alton Lister team reached No. 3 and beat No.1-ranked and undefeated Oregon State on the final day of the regular season.
“They’ve earned it,” said Hurley, who won NCAA championships at Duke in 1991-92 and 1992-93.
“They weren’t anointed prior to the season with anything. They’ve had to earn all the credit they’ve been given, every win, so I want them to enjoy it. Appreciate the success. It’s good to feel good about yourself.”
Senior guard Tra Holder leads the guard-oriented, up-tempo Sun Devils with a 21.2-point scoring average; Evans is second at 19.0. Forward Romello White, a 6-foot-8 freshman who supplies the inside balance ASU lacked the last two seasons, is averaging 16.1 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Through Friday’s games, ASU was fourth in the country with 91.8 points per game and sixth in field goal percentage (52.0).
Evans had a total of 40 points and 11 assists in victories over St. John’s and Kansas. Freshman guard Remy Martin, one of ASU guards who can play the point, jumped onto the national stage with 21 points and five steals against Kansas.
“You can’t win games like at Kansas without NBA guys (because) they have NBA guys,” Hurley said. “You need NBA guys, and Tra and Shannon are definitely that.”
Vanderbilt has not played since a 66-63 home loss to Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 6, its third home loss of the season. Kansas State won in Nashville 84-79 on Dec. 3 and then-No. 10 USC took a 93-89 overtime victory there Nov. 19. ASU beat Kansas State 92-90 in a Las Vegas tournament.
“It’s just learning how to win,” second-year coach Bryce Drew told reporters after the Middle Tennessee State game.
“Like I told our team, two possessions, one more defensive stop and one more score and we win these three games at home and we’re in a totally different situation right now. We have to find a way to close out games. We have to find out which players can close out games for us and execute.”
The lineup has been a work in progress — 10 different players have started at least one game for the Commodores and none has started all nine.
Jeff Roberson, a 6-6 senior, leads the team in scoring (14.2 point a game) and rebounding (8.8 boards a game) while senior guards Riley La Chance and Matthew Fisher-Davis are averaging 12.2 and 12.0 points, respectively. The Commodores are shooting only 40.2 percent from the field, 30.8 from 3-point range.
“Every year you want to build a resume in non-conference (for an NCAA bid),” Drew told the (Nashville) Tennessean. “But to build it, you have to win games. Losses to good teams only go so far in helping. You have to get something in the win column to go along with that tough schedule.”
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