Some of the weaknesses of the Wildcats were on full display against ASU on Saturday. Three freshmen big men had their lumps. The lack of interior scoring was there in the first half.
The first half included the makings of an upset, but the feel was different than the recent rivalry games against the Sun Devils of late. It felt like a normal game, and though the Arizona Wildcats were playing poorly, they were still playing even.
Lyons' second-half, however, set the tone for a 71-54 win by Sean Miller's team in Tempe, and it was proof that this Arizona team still holds a great talent advantage compared to ASU, which didn't have the firepower in the end.
After Lyons' four-turnover first half that ended by being stripped in the backcourt by Evan Gordon for a dunk, Arizona's senior didn't turn the ball over once in the second half to finish with 24 points, three steals and three assists. He had 10 points and all three of those assists in the final 10 minutes of the game, taking a 46-44 lead and helping the Wildcats to a 25-10 run over that period of time.
While Carson added 22 points and four assists, he also had four turnovers and had his aggressive nature somewhat held back considering his foul trouble during the second half.
Little help was provided for the young ASU star. Center Jordan Bachynski did his damage with three blocks, but his three points and six rebounds was bettered by UA starting center Kaleb Tarczewski, who scored five points and brought down eight boards, including an And 1 dunk that played to his grit.
Lyons' second half wasn't the only performance to shine for Arizona. Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill acted as the veteran presences they're expected to be.
Johnson came out gunning in the first half and ended with 19 points in a 7-of-13 shooting performance, one of the best of his career. Hill played perhaps his cleanest and most focused game, scoring 13 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. His dunk to start the game was an assurance he wouldn't flop on Saturday, and he provided playmaking with fadeaway midrange jumpers and just one turnover on the day.
As a whole, Arizona only committed nine turnovers.
The defense ended up forcing ASU into 17 miscues, and the Wildcats scored 18 off those turnovers. Do-it-all man Carrick Felix had seven turnovers himself while shooting 1-of-8 from the floor. Seven of those shots were three-pointers, and by the game's end, the Wildcats had held ASU to a miserable 5-of-20 from beyond the three-point arc.
It was the second game in a row Arizona had success in defending the three, and it's good news considering that was one of their biggest issues before the Oregon State game.
Yet, the Sun Devils didn't score inside either, losing the points in the paint battle 32-18.
Overall, ASU didn't have the firepower to compete, shooting 39 percent from the floor and allowing Arizona to hit 46 percent of its attempts. Outside of Carson, Gordon's 14 points were the only total larger than six from a Sun Devil player.
The hype in Tempe had Arizona facing a team that was much, much improved from a season ago.
But so were the Wildcats. The difference in talent reared its head, and no matter what new assistant coach Eric Musselman has done with ASU's offense, no matter Bachynski's shotblocking ability, no matter Carson's legitimacy, the Wildcats are once again the better team.
Lyons' game was, in a nutshell, a perfect description of what he's been all year. Sometimes you cringe at how he plays. Sometimes he accounts for 19 of the last 25 points by his own scores or his ability to drive-and-dish. What a difference a half makes.
For the Wildcats, what a difference a year makes.