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3 up, 3 down in Arizona’s win at ASU

Arizona sweeps their rival in a game of ups and downs

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats engaged in a 40-minute battle with the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday night, leaving Tempe with a 77-70 win, a sweep of the Devils, and a two-game lead in the Pac-12.

There were definitely some highs and lows in this exciting matchup, and here’s an analysis of what went right and wrong in Tempe for the ‘Cats.

3 up

Fast Start

For about 12 minutes, the entire country watched the Arizona team everyone expected to see this season, as it jumped out to a 33-15 lead.

Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic dominated the paint and chipped in on some jumpers, and Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright both assisted and nailed their shots.

It looked like the Wildcats might run away with the game. They ultimately didn’t, but it showed that underneath all the defensive woes and sometimes questionable effort, this team is capable of being an absolute force when it’s clicking.

That’s gotta make any Wildcats fan ecstatic.

Big Men

Ayton was expected to be the star of this team, and he hasn’t disappointed in that regard. However, Dusan Ristic’s rise to become one of the best frontcourt players in the Pac-12 (and arguably the country) has been an absolute pleasure to watch.

Ayton may receive all the headlines, which he undoubtedly deserves, especially after a 25-point and 16-rebound performance in Tempe, but Ristic played great too. Ristic also recorded a double-double, putting up 12 points and 10 boards. His impact on the game was unquestionably greater than that stat-line indicates, as he made a lot of key effort plays that really helped the ‘Cats.

He also made two straight 3s in the first half. You don’t see that very often.

Regaining Composure

Arizona won this game with a phenomenal first 10 minutes and a strong final 10. The middle of the game was maybe the worst basketball Arizona has played on U.S. soil this year, coughing up an 18-point lead and then falling behind by seven. Despite this, the team battled back and earned the lead back, and didn’t relinquish it after the 10:43 mark.

A primary issue with this team has been its inability to deal with adversity. Once the Sun Devils caught fire, the Wildcats completely lost their cool. Arizona managed six points in the final eight minutes of the first half, while ASU scored 23 over that span.

The second half didn’t start well either. However, the Wildcats managed to keep themselves in the game, and once they settled in again, their talent advantage got them the key victory. Seeing them battle back from adversity was heartening to see.

3 Down


Don’t be fooled by Arizona State’s incredibly slow start. They had plenty of open looks, but the 3s weren’t falling for the Sun Devils early.

The defense has yet to inspire confidence this season. Arizona’s offense kept them in the game, but the real key to the ‘Cats win was ASU’s shooting percentage wasn’t great (42 percent overall, 28 percent from 3). The Devils have lived and died by the 3, and against Arizona they couldn’t quite get their shots to fall early or late in the game.

If the Wildcats can simply stop the deep ball and force some more turnovers, this is an elite team. After 27 games however, it’s not looking like Arizona will make that step.

Rawle Alkins

When Alkins returned from a foot injury in December, he was seen as the final piece to a potential championship puzzle for UA. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

There’s no doubt that Alkins is still a great basketball player that has had plenty of solid games this year. His stats are virtually identical to his stats from last year (he shot 46 percent last year, and this year he’s at 46 percent again). Somehow though, it just feels like he’s regressed.

Thursday, Alkins was 3-of-10 from the floor and frankly looked out of it for much of the game. Maybe his foot is still bothering him. Maybe he’s still trying to find his stride after missing so much time. But the Wildcats absolutely need him, and hopefully he can find consistency before March.

This was one of the few games all season Arizona was able to win with Alkins having an off-night.

Losing Momentum

As fantastic as the first bits of the game went, and as satisfying as it was to see the team fight adversity to get a win, it can’t be overstated how atrocious the middle of the game looked for Arizona.

ASU deserves a lot of credit for catching fire after being absolutely ice cold. Kodi Justice proved how valuable he is tonight, as he was the only Sun Devil with any success from deep. In the end of the first half, Justice had open shot after open shot, and Arizona looked powerless.

Arizona State may have gotten red hot, but for some reason this coincided with a total collapse on offense for the Wildcats. The passes were lackluster (Arizona finished with 20 turnovers). The shot selection was awful. The few decent shots UA got off mostly missed.

If Arizona plays like they played in the eight minutes that finished the first half, this team is facing an opening-round loss in the tournament.