This Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils open Pac-12 play against each other. Going into the season, if you had told basically anybody, even plenty of folks in Tempe, that ASU would be No. 3 in the country and favored by many over the ‘Cats, you’d have received laughs.
Now, neither side is laughing. Instead, nervous anticipation permeates both fanbases.
For Arizona, this game is absolutely pivotal for their conference title hopes and could have a huge effect on their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Entering the game with three losses in non-conference play, the Wildcats are desperate to show they’re as good as the talent on their roster says they should be.
For the Sun Devils, this is their biggest audition to show that this is the best ASU team since, well, ever.
Arizona State has watched helplessly as Lute Olson and Sean Miller have built Arizona into a basketball blue-blood, while ASU has been a mediocre program for most of its history. Now, ASU is third in the nation with impressive wins over Xavier and Kansas and a legitimate star in Tra Holder.
The biggest stakes, however, come from the vitriol of this rivalry. There’s nothing most UA fans would want to see less than Arizona State win in McKale to establish their place in the AP Top 3. On the flip side, a nightmare scenario for ASU fans is for them to lose some of the reputation they’ve earned to their biggest rival who’s dominated them in basketball for a long time.
This will be the fifth matchup between the teams when both are ranked in the AP Poll, per sports-reference.com. The first two took place in the 1975 season, and ASU won both en route to a WAC title and an Elite Eight appearance, where they lost to eventual champion UCLA. The next two took place in 1995, and again Arizona State swept the ‘Cats that year. Both teams were five seeds in March Madness, with UA being upset in the First Round and ASU reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
It’s interesting that Arizona has never beaten the Sun Devils when both were ranked, despite a 79-61 advantage in the series since 1971.
While this is not the first season Arizona State’s been a great team, or the first season in which Arizona has been ranked behind the Sun Devils, it’s clear that this game will be remembered for a long time in the Grand Canyon State.