The first time Arizona played ASU, Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley admitted his team was unprepared for Deandre Ayton’s blend of size and athleticism.
“It’s hard to simulate,” Hurley said.
The second time around was no different.
The Wildcats improve to 21-6 overall and 11-3 in the Pac-12, keeping a two-game lead atop the Pac-12 standings. USC beat Oregon earlier in the day.
Ayton was 8-of-12 from the field, 9-of-12 from the free throw line, and had four assists, navigating through Sun Devil double teams all game.
Arizona led by as many as 18 in the first half, but squandered that lead, and only had a one-point advantage at halftime.
The Sun Devils, led by 19 points from Kodi Justice and 20 points from Tra Holder, grabbed a seven-point lead early in the second half, but Ayton was a steadying force for the Wildcats, posting 17 points and 14 rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
With Arizona up 56-54 with 7:18 left, Ayton scored nine straight points for the Wildcats, using tip-ins, mid-range jumpers, and free throws to help UA keep pace with ASU.
Justice had an acrobatic reverse layup to tie the game at 63 with 3:48 left, but Ayton put back Dusan Ristic’s miss, and Allonzo Trier hit a deep 3 — UA’s only 3 of the second half — to extend Arizona’s lead to 68-63.
Then Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who battled foul trouble all game and eventually fouled in the final minute, had a gorgeous wraparound pass to Ayton who slammed it home to make it 70-63 with 1:27 left.
Unbelievable wraparound pass by Parker Jackson-Cartwright pic.twitter.com/PdWHt1TBPE— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 16, 2018
Arizona was at the free throw line the rest of the game.
With Jackson-Cartwright limited to just 24 minutes, the Wildcats struggled mightily to take care of the ball against ASU’s aggressive pressing defense, committing 20 turnovers on the night.
But ASU struggled to hit shots, shooting just 7-of-25 from 3. Justice was 4-of-9 from that range, but the rest of the Sun Devils were 3-for-16.
The Wildcats weren’t much better from 3 — 6-of-18 — so they smartly fed Ayton and Ristic in the paint instead, which ASU had no answer for.
ASU big man Mickey Mitchell fouled out, while Romello White and De’Quon Lake each finished with four fouls.
Arizona made 21 of its 27 free throws, while ASU was just 7-of-12 from the stripe. The Wildcats outrebounded their rivals 44-28.
The game started as well as Arizona could have hoped, making 10 of its first 12 shots. Ristic, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds, even drilled two 3s to give the Wildcats a 26-11 lead just eight minutes in.
Later, a step-back 3 by Trier put Arizona up 33-15 with 7:33 left in the half, stunning what had been a raucous crowd.
But Arizona’s offense was stagnant for the rest of the half as Jackson-Cartwright was glued to the bench with two fouls (he would later come back in and pick up a third).
That led ASU to amp up its pressure on the perimeter, and Arizona got messy, committing 10 first-half turnovers.
Meanwhile, Justice went on a personal 9-0 run, including two 3s, to trim UA’s lead to 33-24.
That revved up The Bank, and it eventually ballooned into a 21-6 run that made it just a 39-38 Arizona lead at halftime.
ASU continued its onslaught as the second half started, beginning the period on an 8-0 run which was capped by, you guessed it, a Justice 3 to put ASU up by seven, its largest lead of the game.
But Arizona lived at the line and the paint the rest of the way, and Justice would not make another 3, allowing the Wildcats to complete the season sweep of the Sun Devils.
ASU shot just 42 percent, as Arizona put together a second straight commendable defensive performance.
The Wildcats even won with Rawle Alkins having an off night, which has been hard for them to do this season. The sophomore had 10 points and 6 rebounds on 3-of-10 shooting, plus five turnovers.
Trier had 19 points and 5 assists on 12 shots. He and Ayton both played 38 minutes.
But they will have a chance to get some much-needed rest this weekend, as Arizona is off until next Thursday when it faces Oregon State in Corvallis.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire