TEMPE — The streak is over.
It snaps UA’s six-game winning streak over its in-state rival. It’s also Bobby Hurley’s first win against Sean Miller since becoming ASU’s head coach in 2015.
“We were scoring the ball at will, but they were scoring the ball at will too,” said UA forward Ira Lee. “We could have made a couple more stops to win the game, but that’s not what happened.”
That the Wildcats (14-8, 5-4) lost is not surprising. They were five-point underdogs. But the way they lost was.
Defense has been Arizona’s hallmark this season, but the Sun Devils (15-6, 6-3) carved them up by shooting 56 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3. They also got to the line 35 times where they shot 74 percent.
At one point, ASU scored on eight straight possessions to help them turn a six-point deficit with 7:23 left in regulation into an 83-80 lead with 41 seconds left. That is when Justin Coleman, who led Arizona with 19 points, buried a pull-up 3 to send the game to overtime where ASU opened on a 7-0 run and never looked back.
Though the game was close from wire-to-wire, the only reason the Wildcats were competitive is because they made 50 percent of their 3s, a rare prolific night for a team whose offense ranks 114th in the country.
“We haven’t had an offensive night like that … in a while,” Miller said. “That should have been good enough to leave with a road win, but our defense was just inept.”
ASU’s entire starting five scored in double figures. Remy Martin led the way with a career-high 31 points on 14 shots, Zylan Cheatham had 11 points and 22 rebounds, Rob Edwards hit three triples, and Luguentz Dort had 15 points.
None of them faced much resistance. Lee said UA players too often lost their man or failed to communicate.
“We had a really hard time guarding individual players,” Miller said. “It wasn’t in action, per se. It wasn’t we couldn’t guard the middle ball screen or couldn’t guard the low post. We just couldn’t guard the guy in front of us.”
Arizona even mixed in some zone but it didn’t help.
“That’s the hardest defense to solve because there is really no easy answer, and to ASU’s credit they don’t rely on one guy,” Miller said. “Remy Martin was terrific and made some big shots. He took advantage of his size, but so did some other players, whether it be Cheatham, Dort, they all really had their way with us defensively.
“Mixing in a secondary type of defense may have a short-term reward, but at the end of the day, no matter what defense you play, you have to guard the responsibility in front of you and I think that’s most disappointing thing about tonight.”
Miller struggled to find any positives from the loss.
Jeter (back) returned from a two-game absence and figured to give UA a boost on both ends, but looked skittish, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes. Miller estimated he was 40 or 50 percent healthy.
And even though Arizona got Jeter back, it lost starting guard Brandon Williams, who sat out with a knee sprain he suffered last Saturday against UCLA.
Even Ryan Luther’s season-high 19 points, and the five 3s he hit including back-to-back triples that put UA up 67-61 with 7:03 left, were nothing to celebrate.
“He obviously really struggled defensively and rebounding,” Miller said. “I don’t know if his offense equaled his defensive lapses and his own inability to do what he is supposed to do on defense.”
Things won’t get easier, either. The Wildcats return home Thursday to face the first-place Washington Huskies, who are unbeaten in conference play.
KenPom gives UW a 51 percent chance of winning that game. It might as well be 100 at this point.
“Part of it is we have to get healthy and that will be our best chance to win a game,” Miller said. “But it’s going to be hard for us to win a game with the limitations we have at the moment.”