Arizona State looking forward to challenge in Lexington

Dec 10, 2015 - 9:52 PM TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) As Buffalo's coach last season, Bobby Hurley took his team to one of the most difficult environments in college basketball, hoping it would build toughness and character.

The Bulls lost by 19 to Kentucky, but being able to play against a team that long and talented helped lay the foundation for the best season in school history.

Hurley enjoyed the experience so much, he's taking his new team, Arizona State, to Lexington to face the fifth-ranked Wildcats on Saturday.

''We want to try and go to the top of the mountain and see what it's like there,'' Hurley said. ''Sometimes it's not always good, but we're willing to go there and take the chances.''

Hurley is a firm believer in testing his teams with tough nonconference games, that the experience, win or lose, will strengthen his team by season's end.

In two seasons at Buffalo, Hurley scheduled games at Kentucky, Wisconsin and Texas A&M. The Bulls lost all three, but the games helped become the building blocks for a program record-tying 23 wins and its first NCAA Tournament trip last season.

Hurley brought the same mentality to the desert, saying from the day of his introductory news conference that he will schedule tough nonconference games for the Sun Devils. He did just that, lining up games against Kentucky, Texas A&M, UNLV and Creighton. Three of those are on the road, marking the second time since 1989-90 that the Sun Devils will play three nonconference road games.

Arizona State beat Creighton on the road and knocked off then-No. 18 Texas A&M last weekend in Tempe, but the next step will be a big one.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has assembled another roster full of potential NBA players and the Wildcats are considered national title contenders despite losing to UCLA a week ago. The game also will be at Rupp Arena, where Kentucky has won 26 straight.

''It goes to a different level there,'' Hurley said. ''The way people feel about basketball there and there's very few places in the world that can simulate that type of environment. I think that's why it's a real challenge.''

Arizona State (6-2) has gotten off to a solid start in its first season under Hurley.

The fiery former point guard from Duke has instilled a strong work ethic in the Sun Devils and has gotten them to play the up-tempo style he wants despite most of them being recruited by previous coach Herb Sendek.

Arizona State stumbled out of the gate, losing to Sacramento State at home in its opener before rebounding nicely with an impressive string of wins, including two over NCAA Tournament teams from last season (Belmont and Creighton). Arizona State's only other loss was to Marquette in overtime.

''I think we're just working a lot harder than we ever have,'' Arizona State sophomore point guard Tra Holder said. ''We know what it takes to play at a high level. We're a different team now.''

And now they'll be moving to a bigger stage, one that doesn't just have the players excited.

Hurley won a pair of national championships with Duke and played five seasons with a competitive streak that was hard to match. He may not get to suit up anymore, but that competitiveness still burns within him.

Hurley felt it in Lexington last season and is sure to feel it again on Saturday.

''Watching my guys play there last year made me feel like I was jealous of my players that they had a chance to play in that environment in front of those crowds,'' Hurley said. ''As a former player it makes you sad that your career's over. But they (Kentucky) were a special team last year. They just had so much size and mobility, and just were really good at every position and well-coached.''

The Wildcats are just as formidable this season and should provide Hurley with another see-the-mountaintop game, this time with his new team.

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