ASU

This is not Wells Fargo Arena but pretend it is. Photo by Wildcat Universe

There’s a different feeling in the air for this week’s game between the Arizona Wildcats and the ASU Sun Devils and it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.

It’s a rare occurrence to see both teams winning Pac-12 games in the same season.

When you’re talking about the Grand Canyon State college basketball rivalry, “Both teams are good” usually means “ASU isn’t horrible for a change.”

The Sun Devils are on pace for 11 Pac-12 wins. The last time both Arizona schools won at least 11 conference games in the same season was 2003 and it’s only happened three times in the Pac-10+ era.

Conference record is a better indicator of comparable strength than overall record. Case in point, the most combined overall wins by the UA and ASU since joining the Pac-10 is 49, set last year when Arizona was 27-8 and ASU was 22-13. The problem is the Devils’ 22 victories weren’t strong enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. It’s a reminder that all non-conference wins are not created equal.

So we look at conference records and see it is uncommon for Arizona State to be holding up its end up the bargain. ASU has no conference championships since joining the Pac-10 and the Sun Devils have finished 10th in the league twice as often (six times) as they’ve finished second (thrice).

(By the way, one of the 5,692 reasons Arizona fans love Lute Olson is he never finished below Arizona State in the standings. Not once in 24 seasons.)

This year is a better one for the team from Tempe. The Devils have a 7-4 Pac-12 record putting them tied with Cal for third in the conference. Add in the Wildcats’ 10-1 mark and this season has a chance to be the high-water mark for the rivalry.

Here are the best seasons to date in order of combined conference wins:

YearUA Pac W/LFinishASU Pac W/LFinishCombined W
199317-11st11-73rd28
200317-11st11-74th28
200015-31st10-84th25
199513-52nd12-63rd25
199817-11st8-105th25
199114-41st10-83rd24
199414-41st10-84th24
199215-32nd9-95th24
19818-105th16-22nd24

After tonight’s game the two schools will have a combined 18 Pac-12 victories this year. Will there be 10 more wins over the final three weeks of the regular season? Can ASU get to 12 conference wins for just the third time in the last 30 years (1995 and 2010)?

As it stands now it would be only the fourth time both schools finished in the top three in the conference but if the UA can hold onto its Pac-12 lead and Arizona State can make up one game on UCLA it would be the first time the Arizona schools finished one-two in the Pac standings. That would be quite the basketball love letter for the fans throughout this state.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled rivalry hatred.

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