Herb Sendek

Can the football rivalry gap end up like the basketball gap?
Photo by Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Wildcats beat Arizona State handily on Saturday giving Sean Miller his fourth win in five games against the Sun Devils.

Add in the UA football team winning three of the last four Territorial Cup games and Cat fans are swimming in bragging rights.

When was the last time the head-to-head in-state rivalry was this lopsided in the two highest profile sports?

Miller’s rapid rebuilding has moved Arizona Basketball past ASU and the gap is getting wider. The UA hoops program is back to striving for goals much bigger than just beating a rival, but it’s still a big deal for the fans. Life is especially good when you can point to the scoreboard in both football and men’s basketball.

Here is a year-by-year breakdown of the head-to-head results in the Arizona/ASU rivalry (from the Wildcats’ perspective) since both schools joined the Pac-10 in the fall of 1978:

Year Football
Series Record
1978-1979 L 1-2
1979-1980 W 0-3
1980-1981 L 0-2
1981-1982 L 0-2
1982-1983 W 0-2
1983-1984 W 2-0
1984-1985 W 2-0
1985-1986 W 1-1
1986-1987 W 2-0
1987-1988 T 2-0
1988-1989 W 2-0
1989-1990 W 2-0
1990-1991 W 2-0
1991-1992 L 1-1
1992-1993 L 2-0
1993-1994 W 1-1
1994-1995 W 0-2
1995-1996 W 2-0
1996-1997 L 2-0
1997-1998 W 2-0
1998-1999 W 2-0
1999-2000 L 2-0
2000-2001 L 2-0
2001-2002 W 2-1
2002-2003 L 2-0
2003-2004 L 2-0
2004-2005 W 2-0
2005-2006 L 2-0
2006-2007 L 2-0
2007-2008 L 0-2
2008-2009 W 0-3
2009-2010 W 1-1
2010-2011 L 2-0
2011-2012 W 1-0

The Sun Devils’ best combined run in the two sports took place right out of the gate. ASU went 3-1 against Arizona in the first four years of Pac-10 football and tacked on a 9-1 record in basketball.

The tables turned when Larry Smith knocked the Devils out of the Rose Bowl to start The Streak in 1982 and Lute Olson was hired to coach hoops in Tucson a year later. From the fall of 1983 through the spring of 1990 Arizona was 7-0-1 in the rivalry in football and 15-1 in basketball.

The next best UA run was 1995-’96 through 1998-’99 when the Cats went 3-1 in football and a perfect 8-0 on the hardwood.

ASU got some football revenge after that with a 7-2 stretch (overlapping three Wildcat coaches) but Olson continued to dominate on the hoops side of the equation.

(How much of a Devil-killer was Lute? Miller would have to turn his 4-1 start into an 8-1 record to have a better career winning percentage against ASU than Olson did in 23 years. 43-6 (.878) will be hard to beat.)

Thanks in large part to Coach Olson, in the 34 years since joining the Pac-10 Arizona State has won the football game and the basketball season series against the UA in the same academic year only four times, and only once (2007-‘08) since 1981-’82.

That 2008 basketball season is the only thing keeping the current four-year stretch from being among the best on the Arizona side. Herb Sendek took all three games from Russ Pennell that year.

Sean Miller is doing his part to get it back. Tim Kish did his part with an impossible-to-beat undefeated record in his one Territorial Cup. Can Rich Rodriguez stick it to his old defensive coordinator and keep the run going?

He’ll make a lot of friends among Wildcat Universe if he does.

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What made the Wildcats’ victory in this year’s Territorial Cup even more significant was the teams’ records coming into the game. If you look at the win disparity it was one of the biggest upsets in the series’ history.

The 2-8 Arizona team beat 6-4 ASU for a win disparity of four. That matched the aforementioned ’82 upset when the UA’s 5-4-1 team took down the 9-1 Sun Devils. But the coach to overcome the largest win deficit was Mike Stoops when his 2-8 squad shocked Dirk Koetter’s 8-2 team in 2004.

ASU’s all-time biggest rivalry upset in terms of overall record took place in 1952. That year’s Sun Devil team was 3-2 when it defeated the 5-2 team from Tucson.

It was the only time Arizona State beat an Arizona team with a win disparity greater than one. Wildcats will say, “It’s because we beat you all the time.” Sun Devils will say, “It’s because we always have a better record.”

And the rivalry lives on.

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Scott Terrell is hoping for some more good-old-days. Remember the future on Twitter and Facebook.