Arizona defeated Arizona State on Saturday afternoon in a very satisfying victory for Wildcat fans. It wasn’t just winning in Tempe. It wasn’t merely the 17-point margin of victory. It was beating ASU in a fashion that left no doubt as to who had the better team.
It was a sign that a return to the days of a one-sided hoops rivalry may be on the horizon.
The UA made 56% of its shots in the second half against Arizona State. The Cats got to the line 12 times after the break and made them all. Arizona had more rebounds and fewer turnovers than the home team. It all added up to a 25-10 run over the final 10 minutes to turn a close game into a blowout.
The Wildcats wore down the Sun Devils with superior depth and superior talent. It started with Solomon Hill driving through the ASU defense and dunking on the very first possession. You had freshman Kaleb Tarczewski throwing it down over two Sun Devils on his way to outscoring and outrebounding ASU junior center Jordan Bachynski. Mark Lyons finished off the win by attacking, attacking and attacking some more against a foul-hampered Jahii Carson.
People can talk about the suspension and foul trouble exposing ASU’s thin roster but having the troops to win the battle of attrition is part of fielding a strong team. Arizona State certainly benefited in 2008 when Kevin O’Neill attempted what seemed like a four-man rotation.
Devil fans can still say they lead the head-to-head series since Lute Olson retired, having won seven of the last 12 meetings. But Wildcats can confidently point to more telling statistical splits: Olson went 43-6 against ASU, the interim coaches went 0-5 and Sean Miller is now 5-2 against his in-state rivals.
There was definite concern after last year’s game. When ASU beat the Cats on the final day of the regular season to effectively end Arizona’s hopes for an at-large NCAA tournament bid, it became the first time the Devils had taken something away from the UA on the basketball court in three decades.
None of Olson’s six losses to the Sun Devils cost him a Pac-10 championship or spot in the tournament. Even though neither O’Neill nor Russ Pennell could beat ASU, both coaches got Arizona to the Big Dance. Miller’s first loss to the Devils was during his 16-15 season when there was no chance of making the postseason.
Last year’s loss was a big deal and it stung those in Red and Blue. When Wildcat fans got over the shock there was nothing left to do but mutter about waiting for the top-five recruiting class to arrive. ASU was expected to stay near the bottom of the conference and things would quickly go back to normal.
But then ASU put together pretty non-conference record and matched Arizona’s 3-1 start in Pac-12 play. Carson was a leading freshman of the year candidate, Bachynski was a shot-blocking demon and Carrick Felix was playing like the guy recruited by Duke. There was good reason for Wildcat fans to be nervous heading into this game.
Watching the Cats play with intensity and get contributions from multiple sources was more than a relief; it was reenergizing. The win was not quite to the level of Lute Olson pointing at the scoreboard but it was a strong move in that direction.
Now you can take a step back and see a very likeable trend: Sean Miller’s three wins in Tempe have been by 19, 15 and 17 points. His five total wins against ASU are by an average of 16 points. He has elite recruits coming to play with his elite recruits.
Little brother got some shots in while he could but big brother looks ready to go back to his bullying ways.
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