Tucson Turmoil: Reviewing ASU coach Bobby Hurley's unpleasant history with UA

Posted at 12:39 PM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-11 14:39:15-05

A double-overtime loss as a player. An ejection and a blowout defeat as a coach.

To date, Bobby Hurley's encounters with the Arizona Wildcats have been less than ideal -- and if things go expected Thursday at McKale Center, he will return to the Valley with a combined 0-4 career record against his new rivals.

The No. 16 Arizona Wildcats (15-2, 4-0), winners of nine consecutive games and 62 of their last 63 at home, welcome Hurley and the Arizona State Sun Devils (9-8, 2-2) to town for the first of their two meetings this season. The game will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday and air on ESPN2.

Hurley, the second-year ASU men's basketball coach, experienced as much success as a player as one could hope for. He won back-to-back national championships at Duke in 1991 and '92 and was the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player in the latter season.

But one of his team's few setbacks came on Feb. 24, 1991 when his Blue Devils faced Lute Olson and the Wildcats in Tucson. Arizona overcame the eventual national champs 103-96 in double overtime, as UA fans booed and taunted Hurley and teammates Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and other future NBA players throughout the game.

"I remember it being loud at McKale," Hurley said about that game. "It's not an easy place to concentrate with everything that's going on."

Hurley must have had a sense of déjà vu in his return to McKale a quarter century later, when he led the Sun Devils to Tucson for the first time as ASU coach.

Hurley once again endured two-plus hours of taunts and jeers from the partisan Arizona crowd -- the ZonaZoo student section is conveniently located near the visiting team's bench -- as the Wildcats went on to stomp the Sun Devils 99-61.

After the game, Hurley said he "felt helpless" as he could only watch from the bench as UA ran up the score against his outmatched and undersized team.

"It's a whole different animal here, just as a coach and what you have to go through," Hurley said after the loss. "You have, I think, a little more control when the ball's in your hands."

In between his trips to Tucson, Hurley's first game vs. UA as a coach came in Tempe on Jan. 3, 2016. The Sun Devils fought hard but fell 94-82 to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

But the outcome was overshadowed by Hurley himself, as he was ejected for the first time as ASU coach for arguing with officials in the game's final minute. 

Sun Devil fans ate it up, as Hurley encouraged fans to get loud as he stormed off the court. His outburst had the effect of getting ASU fans excited about their men's basketball team, which has not always been an easy task.

"I really wouldn't have changed anything that I did today," Hurley said after the game. "That's as far as I'm going to comment about any of that."

But Hurley's actions also made him an instant villain and easy target in Tucson, and it led to derisive "Bobby... Bobby..." chants (among other things) from the ZonaZoo when ASU took that trip to McKale Center seven weeks later.

Hurley knows he can expect similar verbal abuse Thursday, especially after his comments following a home win last week, as he told his players that if a Pac-12 opponent wants in win in Arizona, they had "better go to f****** Tucson."

On Tuesday, Hurley said he meant no disrespect to UA or Tucson with his remark and was simply looking for a way to motivate his team. But he knows his team faces another tough Tucson test, both on the court and from the partisan crowd, on Thursday.

The fiery 45-year-old coach wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's what you live for as a competitor," Hurley said Tuesday. "It was always something that motivated me as a player. Even as a coach I've been in some real hostile environments."

"Arizona's in that same category in terms of the enthusiasm that their program generates. Their fans support it and they've backed it up with winning. It's nice when you're a fan and you expect your team to win, because the record says they usually do."