The first time the in-state rivals met this year seems like years ago. Arizona won in Tempe for the first time in a while, but the end of the game was overshadowed by Bobby Hurley blowing up at the officials, getting tossed, and costing his team any chance at a win.
One can only imagine how the ZonaZoo will treat Hurley while he's on his first trip to McKale Center. But let's turn our attention to what'll happen on the court.
Who to watch:
In the first meeting, it was the Tra Holder and Obinna Oleka show for the Sun Devils, scoring 24 and 17 respectively. This isn't too out of character for Holder, who leads the team, by a fair margin, scoring 15.3 points per game. For Oleka, it was more of an aberration, as he averages 9.6 per.
ASU only has two players averaging double figures (Holder and Gerry Blakes). This is the kind of combo that favors teams against the Wildcats this year. Arizona is unable to consistently guard on the perimeter, and having these two plus Kodi Justice is beneficial for ASU's upset chances. If one or two of them get hot, look out.
The thing that hurts ASU is its lack of size. Eric Jacobsen is the team's tallest player at 6'10", yet averages just 4.9 rebounds in 21.8 minutes of action. Savon Goodman, who was just returning from an extended absence the first time these two teams met, will be the biggest danger on the boards, as he averages nearly seven per game.
What to watch:
As is the case with almost all Arizona games this year, the key to success will be getting the ball to the rim on offense, and being able to play sufficient perimeter defense. ASU was just 8-of-25 from three in the first meeting, while Arizona went 7-for-12. The Devils shoot the most threes in the conference, but are 10th in 3PT% in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils' lack of size didn't really cost them in the first meeting, but that was also Kaleb Tarczewski's first game in about six weeks, which meant Arizona was still adjusting to a somewhat new rotation in the post. I would expect the Zeus/Dusan Ristic/Ryan Anderson combo to put up some huge numbers against ASU at home this time around. The three have had plenty of time together since that game in Tempe, and have been hugely efficient for the most part.
If Arizona can play decent defense, it should be able to come away with its sixth-straight victory, and head into the Mountain trip on a high note. This in-state rivalry is still a favorable matchup in many ways for the squad, and playing in front of a sold out home crowd should be the icing on the winning formula cake.
The rivalry game will tip off at 7 PM MT on ESPN2.