When you’ve lost six straight games, there isn’t usually much to be excited about. But Arizona State basketball coach Bobby Hurley was able to find a bright spot in the form of sophomore forward Jalen Graham.

The Mountain Pointe High School product went a month between games, the factors being games ASU had postponed due to COVID-19 and Graham’s bout with mononucleosis that sidelined him for three games.

The Sun Devils lost back-to-back games against in-state rival Arizona, the first coming at the buzzer last Thursday and one on Monday in lopsided fashion. But Graham starred with 24 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. He had a career-best 14 points and his first double-double in the more recent outing

Graham has been coming off the bench since his return with junior Chris Osten starting in his place but could be back among the starting quintet when the Sun Devils (4-8, 1-5) square off against California (7-10, 2-8) at 9 p.m. on Thursday at Desert Financial Arena.

The game will be televised on FS1.

“Jalen Graham the last two games coming back has been a really positive for us. It looks like the guy I was watching in the preseason workouts and it didn’t always translate early in the season but he’s playing at a good level right now. He’s got to keep maintaining that,” Hurley said.

Graham came into the season bearing the burden of having to replace Romello White, who transferred to Mississippi. It’s not easy to replace a veteran starter that averaged a double-double. The lanky sophomore has had some stellar moments but hadn’t been consistent with his progress stymied by foul trouble in several early games.

He came back from the illness a more focused, determined player.

“I kind of just think that I can show people that I can be a better player. I wasn’t doing that before I was out,” he said, after Monday’s game. “Now I have a different mentality and I just want to help the team. I just want to show out.”

He said being out gave him a chance to watch the game from a different perspective and his showing the last two games is a byproduct of that.

“Buying in and just wanting to be better. For the two weeks I was out  I wasn’t just sitting there. I was eating and doing everything I could do to be healthy. I just had a different mentality coming in,” he said. “When I was out we were losing and I got to watch the team on TV rather than going to the game and being at the game and that’s just a whole different aspect. Now I just want to come back and play hard and just be strong and be better.”

Hurley also had some praise for another local product, sophomore guard Jaelen House who managed eight points and three assists in 17 minutes in Monday’s game. The Shadow Mountain graduate has always been noted as a tenacious defender but Hurley liked the all-around game of the 6-foot-1, 160-pounder.

“House always defends. He’s pesky on defense, drew a charge, hit a couple shots, made a few nice passes, one to Jalen Graham for a dunk. He’s certainly helped himself, put himself in a position to earn more playing time,” he said.

This will be the second meeting between the two teams with ASU beating Cal in its Pac-12 opener back in December 70-62. The Bears have lost three of their last four games, being swept by the Los Angeles schools last week.

Hurley said his team spent a lot of time watching film and appears ready to bounce back

“I thought the guys responded pretty well to our film session today and practiced fairly well, good energy. So I thought it was a really productive day.”

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783.  Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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