Lucky for Sean Miller, the Arizona Wildcats didn't need motivation to start fast. It was a rivalry game. Nice for Arizona that it didn't need any heroic efforts from any one player to plug a few holes in the hull of the No. 1 ship.
Easy for the Wildcats that the Arizona State Sun Devils brought a talent-deficient roster to McKale Center on Thursday and had no shot, especially once they found out scoring guard Jermaine Marshall needed to sit out with a groin injury. Arizona started steadily in a 91-68 win; but steady meant they were steadily outplaying undermanned ASU. UA built a 28-10 lead thanks to the Sun Devils' eight-plus minute field goal drought in the heart of the first half, and that was that.
Meanwhile, all seven of Arizona's regular rotation players scored in double-figures.
Kaleb Tarczewski took it to senior Jordan Bachynski, the NCAA's shot-blocking leader. Tarczewski went 5-for-9 from the floor to score 12 points and he also grabbed eight rebounds, outmuscling the super-senior and finishing through contact. Nick Johnson had a pure shooting night to lead UA with 17 points, while T.J. McConnell added six assists and three steals. Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon combined for 26 points, 11 rebounds and -- most impressively -- seven assists.
The Sun Devils' field goal shooting hovered below 30 percent for most of the game, and had it not been for their 31 free throws, they might have been in deeper trouble.
Carson found trouble against McConnell and then Johnson, and it didn't help Johnson no longer had Marshall to worry about. Carson went 7-of-19 from the field and scored 20 points, but the last few buckets came once the Wildcats jumped out in the second half with a 42-28 lead and quickly jacked the advantage back past the 20-point mark.
Here were the numbers. The Wildcats shot 56 percent to ASU's 34 percent, outscored the Sun Devils 17-3 off offensive boards, won the points-in-the-paint battle, 38-18, and had 21 assists on 34 field goals. Arizona State only had seven assists to 18 turnovers.
What made all that add up? Simply put, the Wildcats weren't only the more talented team but were by far the more physically-imposing squad.
That of course speaks to Sean Miller's recruiting but also says something about what's next for Herb Sendek when Carson leaves for the NBA. Take Bachynski, the 24-year-old, 7-foot-2, 250 center as an example. He was outplayed by Tarczewski, the 7-foot, 235-pounder going on 21. The senior center was falling down when hit and went 0-for-3 when he took contact or attempted to shoot over Arizona's length.
That matchup just about told the story of the two programs.
So yeah. It went about how you thought it would.
- The most impressive part of Arizona's win could be called general unselfishness, but it was really the interior passing. Brandon Ashley recorded four dimes, Aaron Gordon added three, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added two more. More often than not, they were looking for one another rather than kicking it out.
- The inside attack did open up opportunities outside, as usual. Arizona hit 8-of-15 three-point attempts, all the makes going to Gabe York, McConnell or Johnson.
- Brandon Ashley's left hand looked good. Real good. He put it on the deck once just after catching a pass atop the arc and used a sweeping and soft lefty hook shot on the run to bank it in. He also abused the Sun Devils on the block, looking like Oliver Miller while bulldozing ASU's Eric Jacobsen on one play
- Fox Sports 1 didn't get to the Arizona-ASU until a double-overtime affair between Providence and St. John's was through. They did, however, throw out some Frog N' Firkin references, so there's that. Also, Gus Johnson was calling the game.
- The foul shooting on Arizona's end was again a minor worry in a January blowout but not as much of a throwaway looking ahead. The Wildcats went 15-for-28 at the stripe (53.6 percent).
- Nick Johnson seemed to tweak his already-testy ankle at the end of his night, but it didn't seem like a full twist. He remained on the bench to watch the rest of the game.