High stakes come to fruition on Saturday night as No. 3 ASU takes on No. 17 Arizona in Tucson
By TJ Mathewson // Men’s Basketball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports
TUCSON, Ariz. — This won’t be your same old ASU-Arizona basketball rivalry game when the No. 3 Sun Devils (12-0) head to Tucson Saturday to take on the No. 17 Wildcats (10-3).
Sure, it’s hard to ignore the numbers.
ASU had lost seven games in a row at the McKale Center, all by double digits.The Wildcats lead the all-time series 150-83, and are 4-0 against the Sun Devils in the Bobby Hurley era.
In one of the biggest ASU-Arizona rivalry games in history and arguably the biggest game in Pac-12 Networks’ history (next to Arizona-Utah in 2015), ASU is looking to flip the scripts on Saturday night.
“It’s not just a game anymore, it’s bigger than basketball,” senior guard Shannon Evans said. “It’s for Tempe, for our school, and we have to do it. They’re a great team, they’re well coached, but going into conference play, it’s bigger than anything. What we did the last month or two doesn’t matter no more.
If there’s one positive from the rivalry for ASU, it’s when both teams are ranked. ASU is 4-0 all-time against Arizona when both programs are ranked.
The last time that happened was in 1995.
It’s not just that ASU wants to flip the script against Arizona, but PAC-12 play in general after a couple of subpar years in conference in coach Bobby Hurley’s first two seasons (5-13 in 2015-16 and 7-11 in 2016-17). Arizona had a bit of a rough start to the season, dropping three games in a row to NC State, SMU and Purdue, to finish last, yes last, in the “Battle 4 Atlantis” in the Bahamas.
That slide came without the services of sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, who has returned from injury to play in the last four games, averaging 16 points and playing great defense, a staple of Sean Miller-coached teams.
Since that three-game slide that bounced Arizona from No. 2 in the nation in the AP poll to unranked, the Wildcats have rolled off seven straight wins, including quality victories over then No. 7 Texas A&M and Alabama.
ASU finished up its undefeated non-conference schedule Dec. 22 against Pacific, a 104-65 victory. This was the second time ASU has cracked 100-plus points in a game this season (scored 102 versus Xavier).
The 12-0 start for the Sun Devils is the best start in program history and the second longest win streak in program history (18 wins in a row in 1961-62 season).
This game will be a matchup of polar opposites, with the small ball run-and-gun lineup of ASU matching up against the much bigger defense-oriented lineup of Arizona.
At their best, ASU is going to try and force Arizona to go small with the four-guard lineup of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and Remy Martin, who have combined to average 63 points.
If ASU can’t force Arizona to go small, they are going to have to try and matchup with the two 7-footers in the Arizona starting lineup, with potential No. 1 pick freshman Deandre Ayton and senior Dusan Ristic.
After coming to Tucson as one of the top recruits in the country, Ayton has not disappointed, averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds while averaging over a block a game.
Ayton has shown a very developed offensive repertoire for someone his age, shooting almost 67% from 2-pt range and occasionally stretching out to the 3-pt line where he shoots 30% (at 7-foot-1).
Ayton and Ristic aren’t the only players to worry about for Arizona. Junior guard Allonzo Trier, also a potential first-round pick, comes in averaging over 21 points and three assists, and one of the best scorers in the country.
Senior Jackson Parker-Cartwright rounds out the starting five for Arizona, averaging 7.3 points and 4.7 assists.
For ASU, freshman Kimani Lawrence has been going through non-contact drills all week, still recovering for the stress fracture in his foot that he suffered before the season started. He will be a game time decision.
Lawrence would be a huge addition to the rotation for the Sun Devils, who have benefitted from recently eligible Mickey Mitchell.
Mitchell has averaged 6.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in four games he’s played this year, earning himself his first career start versus Pacific in the final non-conference game of the season.
TJ Mathewson is a beat writer for Blaze Sports covering ASU Men’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow TJ on Twitter @TJMathewson.