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ASU vs. Arizona Time, TV, Preview: Wildcats to host Sun Devils in Thursday night rivalry game

Arizona opens as near-20-point favorites

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

It’s rivalry week for the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils, and ASU coach Bobby Hurley has made things a little more interesting than usual.

Hurley uttered controversial comments (depending on who you ask) about the UA last week, saying that if opposing teams want to get win in Arizona, they’re going to have to go to Tucson to do so.

But while it may have riled up fans on both sides, Arizona didn’t think much of it.

“We all saw it,” UA point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “It’s just one of those things, you just got to brush it off. It’s not like it’s the end of the world. It doesn’t really affect anything we do basketball-wise. It’s just a comment.”

UA head coach Sean Miller didn’t see the video in which Hurley made the comments, but he felt the same way as Jackson-Cartwright.

“A lot of people have told me about it,” Miller said. “Bobby was a great competitor himself and the challenge as a coach it to get your team motivated, to have your team ready to play and to run a program, to build a program. Confidence is part of that. There is a lot of different ways to go about instilling that. I don’t think he meant that in a derogatory fashion toward our program or things here in Tucson, as much as making sure his guys believe in themselves and the objective to be a tough team to play against and win.

“I respect that. I know him and I know where he is from and how he’s wired. In today’s world, the behind-the-scenes things can really be misunderstood and I think this is a classic example of that.”

Earlier in his coaching days, Miller might have had a different response, though.

“That’s being like the young coach who is dumb versus the older coach who is a lot smarter,” he said. “The second you put too much emphasis on a moment, you have to realize that if there is less emphasis on another moment, then you must not think that game is as important. And believe me, the players on our team sense that.

“It’s important for us that we are the same, that we take every game seriously, and that we try to play with equal effort.”

Frankly, all the 16th-ranked Wildcats (15-2, 4-0) have to do to win this game is to take it seriously, as they open as nearly 20-point favorites over their in-state rival.

The Sun Devils (9-8, 2-2) rank as the No. 120 team in college basketball, per, and are especially vulnerable on defense. ASU has the 260th defense in college basketball, allowing teams to shoot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3.

The Sun Devils play at a quick pace, allowing them to score 82 points per game, but it also leads to them giving up 82.1 points per game.

Offensively, ASU is respectable, ranking as the 42nd-best offense in college basketball. It shoots 37 percent from 3 as a team, and has four players that are averaging double figures in the scoring column in guards Torian Graham (18.1), Tra Holder (16.7), and Shannon Evans II (15.9), as well as forward Obinna Oleka (13.1).

“ASU is an outstanding 3-point shooting team,” Miller said. “Looking at their style, especially with their guard play, they play with tremendous freedom, they play at a very fast pace. In transition, they thrive because they have multiple 3-point shooters on the floor at once. And in many cases, those same 3-point shooters are also dynamic at getting to the basket.

“Evans and Holder in their own respective lights are terrific players. (They) are guards that are older, that have been successful. Statistically, if you look at their history of their college career, both are really, really good players. And they’re out there together and then they have a number of other guys that can shoot the 3.

Miller said ASU can also be tricky to defend because it plays four-guard lineups at times.

“Which is unique,” he said. “It’s very difficult to defend and we’re going to really have to be ready in transition and being able to guard the 3-point shot. As you talk about guarding the 3-point shot, you have to be able to guard players off the dribble because when they get dribble penetration that leads to some of the best 3-point shots that they can get.”

Arizona has had success defending the 3 this season, holding opponents to 29 percent from behind the arc.

It will be intriguing to see how the size discrepancy affects the Wildcats. Miller said Keanu Pinder could prove to be a valuable player against the Sun Devils because of his mobility as a frontcourt player.

“You can see where Keanu could be called upon to be able to defend and help us against that type of lineup,” Miller said.

Arizona, looking for a 5-0 start to Pac-12 play, has won nine games in a row and hasn’t lost to ASU in McKale Center since 2010. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 148-82.

It is unclear if Allonzo Trier will play for the Wildcats, or if Jackson-Cartwright will be in the starting lineup. Miller said Monday that the point guard’s return to the starting five “could happen here soon.

Jackson-Cartwright has recorded 25 assists to five turnovers since returning from a high ankle sprain which forced him to miss six games.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m. MST


Stream: WatchESPN

Announcers: Dave Pasch and Bill Walton (!)

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire