It’s rivalry week!
No. 17 Arizona (20-6, 10-3) won the first matchup in Tucson, 84-78. The Wildcats are coming off a win vs. USC, but lost two straight prior to that.
The 25th-ranked Sun Devils (17-6, 7-6) have won three straight, but have not quite been as dominant as they were when they went undefeated in non-conference play.
We wanted to know more about ASU and how its season has gone since the matchup in Tucson, so we asked our friends at HouseOfSparky.com, the ASU SB Nation site, for some insight.
Here is our Q&A with co-managing editor Jordan Kaye.
How different is ASU now compared to non-conference play? It seems like the Sun Devils’ play has tapered off a bit since that hot start.
At times, it’s looked like a different team. Opponents have stifled ASU’s offense by playing a zone defense and as a result, those open shots that propelled ASU to a 12-0 record started to become contested. Also, aside from last weekend, the Devils’ defense was lackluster. They kept getting beat down-low and allowed a plethora of wide-open corner 3s.
That said, ASU has won three straight, so what has been working lately?
Well, for one, its shots have been falling. ASU hit 42 percent of its shots against both LA schools and hasn’t relied on just getting hot from 3. It hit just 15 combined triples in those two games, opting to drive to the hoop much more. ASU has also been at home which I think has really elevated its defense.
Tra Holder — and most good point guards — has given Arizona trouble this year. What can the Wildcats do to slow him down?
This is somewhat similar to the answer on how to stop Deandre Ayton: make him shoot. That’s not a knock on Holder, either, he’s a solid shooter, but the Wildcats can’t let him drive to the hole. Holder is one of the best in the country at getting to the line. Sean Miller even praised his ability to do so after he shot 16 free throws in the first meeting.
ASU’s defense actually ranks better than Arizona’s right now, so how have the Sun Devils been able to improve on that side of ball?
That’s incredibly surprising, but in the past few games the Devils’ forwards De’Quon Lake and Romello White have stayed out of foul trouble and kept opponents off of the line. The Devils have also been producing a ton of turnovers. USC committed 18 against them and UCLA had 12.
Has their offense changed at all since the last matchup?
It hasn’t changed so much as it’s evolved. The Devils still want to get the ball into the paint early, string together a few 3s and they still want to get out into transition as much as possible. But, they haven’t relied on the 3-ball lately. The guards have started driving and throwing up more floaters while also keeping two forwards on the court more, using the 4-guard set much less since that first meeting.
Highly-touted freshman Kimani Lawrence didn’t play against Arizona last time, so what has he added to the Sun Devils?
He’s given the Devils extra versatility on defense and added length on both sides of the ball. His contributions have been very limited, but he had what looked to be a breakthrough game against UCLA, notching eight points, seven rebounds and was all over the court.
What do you expect the atmosphere to be like Thursday? Usually, there is a large contingent of Arizona fans, but I feel like it will be different this year because of how well ASU has played.
Well, there’s definitely going to be a solid amount of red in “The Bank” (Wells Fargo Arena’s new nickname), and I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that it’ll be far more noticeable than the approximately nine yellow dots I saw in McKale in December. But WFA gets loud, especially when a few deep shots start dropping.
ASU tore down its back wall earlier in the season to increase the arena capacity to over 14,000, even drawing 14,025 against UCLA on Saturday. For really the first time in the Hurley era, fans think the Devils have a fantastic shot to beat the Cats at home – both them and the atmosphere are going to be electric.
Are ASU fans disappointed how this season has turned out after it started so well?
I would’ve said yes and then it rattled off three straight wins and all seems right with the world in Tempe. Throughout the Pac-12 slump, people were more frustrated than disappointed -- especially when the “ASU is on the NCAA Tournament bubble” started sparking up a week ago
These teams are comparable, that was confirmed with their first meeting in Tucson. I think this game will come down to the wire, and if so, ASU is much better in crunch-time at home. Ayton and Dusan Ristic are intimidating, but the Sun Devils have played much better as of late against big men. For those reasons, I think ASU will beat U of A for the first time in Hurley’s tenure.
Thanks to Jordan for answering our questions about the Sun Devils. We answered questions for them about Arizona, which you will be able to find on HouseOfSparky.com shortly.