Arizona State suffers first loss of the season at the hands of Arizona in a nail-bitting loss
By Andrew Bell // Men’s Basketball Writer for Blaze Sports
TEMPE, Ariz — The ASU men’s basketball team was the only undefeated team in the nation going into its Saturday night showdown with the No. 17 Arizona Wildcats. With the eyes of the college basketball world on Tucson, the Sun Devils had a chance to stand alone among the ranks of the unbeaten.
Unfortunately for ASU, they suffered an 84-78 loss at the hands of their in-state rivals.
“I thought we had the will to win that game and they are really big inside and they were in the paint for a while,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “…We didn’t play our best offensive game and a lot of the credit will go to Arizona and their game plan and their desire to defend.”
In a game that was filled with rampant scoring runs and up tempo offense, ASU had trouble with one of the most highly-touted players in the country, freshman forward DeAndre Ayton.
Ayton came into Saturday night’s game averaging 19.5 points per game and 11.4 rebounds. The freshman phenom is expected to be one of the top prospects in the NBA draft come June, and put his talents on full display in one of the biggest college basketball games of the season.
Ayton finished the game with 23 points and 19 rebounds in 35 minutes played.
“Just late in the game, I felt like he was in the paint. He was in there forever,” Hurley said of Ayton. “You give a guy a chance to sit in the paint that long, eventually they’re going to find him and throw him the ball because he’s a pretty big target.”
After trailing by just two points at the half, ASU fell down by as many as 12 points in the final 20 minutes of the game. ASU would rally to cut the lead all the way down to one point, but the Sun Devils couldn’t get over the hump.
Arizona had three players in double figures, including junior guard Allonzo Trier. Trier leads the Wildcats in scoring this season and is averaging just over 21 points a game. However, at the half, the junior guard had just five points while shooting 1-7 from the field.
Despite a rough start, Trier flipped the script in the second half by putting up 18 points and getting to the free throw line. Trier was a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe and he made a number of crucial plays down the stretch of the game to secure an Arizona victory.
“I thought Trier played like a guy that’s at the top of the league in terms of his ability,” Hurley said. “His drive late was big in the second half.”
As for ASU, senior guard Tra Holder put up yet another stellar performance during his senior campaign. Holder finished the game with 31 points, with 15 of those points coming from the free throw line.
“I always thought we were in the game, even when we were down 12,” Holder said. “We catch fire quick and we didn’t hit shots that we normally hit today, but that’s how basketball is.”
ASU sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell and freshman guard Remy Martin were the only other players in double figures for the Sun Devils, and senior guards Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice were stymied by an Arizona defense that held ASU to 38 percent from the field.
As for the front court, ASU redshirt freshman forward Romello White was bottled up against a lethal Arizona interior. White was matched up with Ayton to start Saturday’s contest, and he finished a rough night with two points and eight rebounds in a game that was cut short by fouling out midway through the second half.
Aside from White, ASU junior forward De’ Quon Lake recorded eight points and three rebounds in 19 minutes of action, but Ayton proved to be the difference by imposing his will on the inside.
With the game hanging in the balance in the final minute of the second half, ASU trailed by two points and had a chance to gain possession of the ball and tie or win the game with one defensive stand.
However, Ayton would ice the game away following a missed jump that was tipped back in by the towering freshman. Arizona pushed its lead up to four, and the rest was history.
Arizona looked upon Ayton and Trier to close out the game–a recipe that has been used since the Wildcats’ three-game losing streak in November. Since that time, Arizona has rattled off eight consecutive victories as they look to climb back up the AP rankings.
Prior to Saturday night’s game, it was announced that ASU freshman forward Kimani Lawrence was cleared to play following a foot injury that had kept him sidelined for all of non-conference play.
Lawrence was in uniform and on the ASU bench, but he did not play on Saturday night.
Following a wild Saturday of college basketball that saw three undefeated teams suffer their first loss on the same day, there are no undefeated teams left standing in the country.
ASU has fallen to 12-1 overall and 0-1 to open Pac-12 play, but there is certainly no need to panic for the Sun Devils. ASU played yet another highly competitive game in a hostile environment and fell just short on the road.
“We played hard and that’s all you can ask,” Holder said. “…We fought back through adversity and we are going to learn from it.”
ASU likely won’t fall far in the AP rankings, and the Sun Devils will have their chance for revenge against the Wildcats on Feb. 15 when Arizona enters Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU will turn its attention to the rest of its Pac-12 schedule. Up next, ASU will travel to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes.
Tipoff between ASU and Colorado is set for Thursday, Jan. 4 at 6:30 p.m. MST.
Andrew Bell is one of Blaze Radio’s beat writers for ASU Men’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at email@example.com or follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewBell7 .