Analysis: Azuolas Tubelis' game-saving put-back, Bobby Hurley's coaching meltdown

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Arizona Wildcats' freshman Azuolas Tubelis celebrates his game-winning put-back layup against Arizona State on Thursday, January, 21, 2021 in Tempe, Arizona. The Wildcats won the game 84-82. (Courtesy of Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics)

Arizona traveled to Tempe on Thursday, Jan. 21, to play rival Arizona State. The Wildcats were able to escape with a miraculous buzzer-beating win from the tip in by star freshman Azuolas Tubelis, cleaning up James Akinjo’s airball (or pass?). 

With a final score of 84-82 in favor of Arizona, head coach Sean Miller and his team should definitely be excited and happy with this win, but there is so much more room for improvement, especially with a team I believe can be really good. 

Tubelis goes from zero to hero

Tubelis had the most forgettable 30 minutes of basketball he’s ever been a part of but finished the game off being the Wildcats’ savior, etching his name into the desert rivalry for eternity, doing so in his first of many to come. 

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To start off this game, Tubelis looked a little timid and not exactly ready for this rivalry. He had two pretty routine dunk attempts blocked and missed three more bunny layups at the rim. The most alarming play of this first half was his spin move into the double team and losing the ball, proceeding to just fall to the ground resulting in a turnover. 

Miller had to be nervous, his star 18-year-old looked out of it. It didn’t get much better for a while as Tubelis started the second half the same way with a turnover on three of the first few possessions of the half. Credit to both Tubelis and Miller for sticking with it as his first bucket came with 11 minutes left in the game and definitely sparked some confidence in him. 

With three minutes left, he scored his third field goal of the game right after having a great kick out to Dalen Terry off a decisive roll to the basket, cutting the Sun Devils’ lead to two. 

This was the Tubelis we have seen all season, a great playmaker off the high screen and roll, attacking the basket being a three-level scoring big. With 33 seconds to play in an 82-82 standoff, the inevitable, horrendous foul call by the Pac-12 officials showed up on an illegal screen by Tubelis. Would this kill the confidence he finally built this game? 

The exact opposite. 

Tubelis played great defense at the rim, contesting Remy Martin’s layup and even being credited with a block with 10 seconds left. Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley is still up in arms about the lack of a foul call that he swears lost them the game.  

Bennedict Mathurin rebounds the ball with eight seconds left on the clock and Tubelis sprints the floor, as a big man should, and ran to the weak side rim — which is incredibly smart for a freshman to do as any coach will tell you that about 66% of missed shots rebound to the weak side. 

Tubelis being the lone player in the key cleaning up the Akinjo airball, had to have felt a lifetime skip by waiting for that ball to drop in time for him to complete the parody of the classic Jimmy Valvano, NC State tip-in winner. 



This game and moment should be a huge checkpoint in Tubelis’ development. He has shown he can be in an all-time bad game funk and snap out of it when the team needs him. He has proven to himself now that, when he is confident, he is a better player. He should never get down on himself again, he just won Arizona’s first game in Tempe since 2018. 

The late comeback

By no means was this great basketball displayed by either team. There was a game total of 30 turnovers and 39 fouls in a 40-minute basketball game. There were plenty of missed layups or shots from the restricted area in this game as well. Pretty sloppy stuff all around. 

Arizona had the largest lead of the game at 11, but this was midway through the first half. The Wildcats held onto the lead for the majority of the game, not giving it up till 8:53 left in the game after Remy Martin sparked his big second half, giving the Sun Devils a 62-60 lead. This game stalled as a back and forth for a few minutes until Martin and Josh Christopher got hot simultaneously and gave the Devils their largest lead of 76-69 with under five minutes to play. 

The momentum and energy are on the opponent's side and the game is slipping. Arizona seemed to be in a glut offensively and ASU finally got hot. In college basketball, this should be over. It almost always is. 

Coming out of the timeout, Miller dialed up a pretty good slip play for Tubelis which resulted in the kick-out to the other exciting freshman Terry — who Miller said postgame was the “unsung hero” of the game. Terry nails the shot and it was big, like many of his other shots this game. 



This was the start of the fight and adversity response that this Arizona team showed against ASU this year. Something last year's team wanted no part of. ASU proceeds to hit another back-breaking three, making the score 82-77 and Miller calls his last timeout with 2:15 left to play, a common move and something I will never understand that he believes in. 

A couple of possessions go by and ASU responds with a 2-3 zone look with 1:50 play. Arizona, without hesitating, puts their backcourt at the top. Tubelis sets a pin flare screen on the weak side guard, Akinjo flares off it and catches the pass and proceeds to hit a big shot to make it 82-80 1:45 to play. 

Big shot after big shot was the story of the last five minutes for both teams. Miller should be awfully proud of his guys. The foul call with 33 seconds left on Tubelis was erroneous and represents a lot of the Pac-12’s problems as a whole. That should have been the knife in Arizona’s back, perfectly completing the story for another second-half collapse against their rival, ending in an ugly, morale-killing manner. 

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Miller was visibly livid and astounded at the call — so was every other Arizona fan watching the game. His team didn’t miss a beat, holding him back from getting a technical foul and getting set up to play one final possession of defense, something this team has lacked all year, but provided when it was needed most. 

We know how this game ended. The heroic play by Tubelis to win this game and make the SportsCenter top-10 plays and providing a much-needed milestone on a season that will sadly end shortly due to the self-imposed postseason ban. 

The coaching meltdown of Bobby Hurley 

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley is someone who I have been very critical of and a coach I believe is vastly overrated. His team looked extremely unprepared with double-digit turnovers in the first half and one of his freshman Marcus Bagley having one of the more boneheaded technical fouls you will see.

He stood around for the entire first half, screaming at officials and his players whenever making a mistake instead of making adjustments at all. I never saw movement on his offense or any sort of system in place. The way they got back into this game was just banking on Martin, Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley hitting tough contested shots — which they are capable of doing but isn’t a formula for winning. Maybe that’s why they are 4-7 and one of the more underperforming teams in the country? 

Hurley spent almost his whole press conference complaining and sighing in disbelief that there was no foul call on Martin’s drive to the hoop with 10 seconds remaining. We'll get to that in a second. Continuing the whiny baby role he played all night and pretty much his whole basketball career, he tweeted a still shot picture of the Tubelis block early Friday morning, implying that he is still complaining. 



He will be hit with a fine from the Pac-12 soon enough, but the message that sends to his team and program is pathetic. When things don’t go our way, let’s blame someone else! It’s not our fault. It’s theirs! 

The game shouldn’t have ended the way it did if Hurley didn’t make the biggest mistake of the game, instructing Martin to attack the basket early. In his postgame presser, Hurley said Martin “went a fraction early,” and, again, placing blame somewhere else, but he still wanted Martin to attack and shoot early.



Let’s backtrack. ASU inbounds the ball with 32.3 seconds remaining in the game and a full 30-second shot clock after the Tubelis foul. That’s it, the game should have one final possession left in regulation, not even giving Arizona a single chance to win the game. In this situation you need to run the whole shot clock down, running simple passing and dribble handoff movements just to get the defense out of their set place. 

Everyone in the arena knew Martin was taking this last shot. He needs to be instructed to not start his attack, penetration, set of dribble moves till there are five seconds left on the shot clock. That’s an eternity for a great shot-creator like Martin. 

That shot goes up along with the shot clock buzzer and the absolute best Arizona can do is hope for a miss, rebound and full-court shot. A near impossible. The worst ASU can hope for then is a miss and a chance to win in overtime. This was a fundamental coaching issue that cost ASU this game and really seemed to kill any sort of good-body language his team had out there. 

Rematch Monday 

The Sun Devils will travel to Tucson on Monday, Jan. 25, now to complete the “baseball series” of back-to-backs. Adjustments will be made from both sides and it will be another hard-fought game of two teams and coaches that do not like each other. 

Miller flexed his muscles a little bit in Tempe with this win and has his team still in a decent position for the Pac-12 regular-season title. Spirits and emotions are high in Tucson, a sweep of “ASWHO,” as they call it in the Wildcats’ locker room, would set their mark on a weird, but fun, season. 


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