Just four days after beating ASU on the road, the Arizona Wildcats play host to the Sun Devils on Monday night at McKale Center.
Arizona (11-3, 5-3 Pac-12) won 84-82 in Tempe on Thursday night thanks to Azuolas Tubelis’ layup as time expired. ASU (4-7, 1-4) has lost five straight games and hasn’t been victorious since Dec. 13.
The game, which was originally scheduled to be played March 6 before the Pac-12 moved it up, is set to tip at 9 p.m. MST and will be shown on ESPN2. Here’s what to keep an eye on:
Funny seeing you again
It’s almost unheard of for Arizona to face the same opponent twice in a row, yet amazingly this is the second year in a row it will happen. Last season the Wildcats ended the regular season with a 69-63 home loss to Washington, only to face the Huskies four days later in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
The UA won the rematch, 77-70, which ended up being its final game of the 2019-20 season since the COVID-19 pandemic caused sports to get shut down right afterward.
COVID is also the reason Arizona and ASU are essentially playing a home-and-home series. With numerous Pac-12 games getting postponed, the league has shifted several matchups from the final week of the regular season to earlier dates, thus leaving that final week open for make-up games. The UA has to reschedule its trip to Oregon, which was originally set for Jan. 16, while ASU has three postponed games left to reschedule.
A season sweep of ASU would give Arizona its first win streak in the rivalry since claiming six in a row from 2016-18.
All eyes on Hurley
Tubelis wasn’t just involved in the game-winning score last week, he was also a key figure in an equally important play on the other end of the court less than 10 seconds earlier. The freshman forward block ASU guard Remy Martin’s shot on a driving layup attempt.
ASU coach Bobby Hurley saw the play a different way, vehemently claiming Martin was fouled and, as a result, the Sun Devils “deserved” to win the game. That comment, part of a long rant after the game, as well as a tweet that included a picture of Tubelis and Martin at the point of contact, led to Hurley being reprimanded by the Pac-12 for criticizing the officiating.
It’s too bad fans aren’t going to be in McKale, because there no doubt would be some signs related to Hurley’s comments, not to mention plenty of colorful phrases directed at him from the crowd. There will be a trio of referees, however, and one can only wonder if the Pac-12 will have asked that crew to keep their ears open in case ASU’s coach gets especially chippy about calls (or no-calls).
About that last game
The final result was a positive one, but beating ASU was not easy. Arizona trailed by seven with less than five minutes remaining—after having led by 11 midway through the first half—before ending the game on an 11-3 run.
While it was another solid offensive performance, particularly the 11-for-20 effort from 3-point range and the 15-of-17 showing at the foul line, Arizona needed every one of those makes because its defense once again played poorly. ASU shot 46.3 percent, made 11 3s and matched the Wildcats on the boards despite being undersized in the frontcourt.
ASU had nine offensive rebounds, the second-most Arizona has allowed in regulation this season, and the Sun Devils’ guards constantly beat the Wildcats off the dribble like so many other opponents have.
“Sometimes you just have to figure out a way to try to get a win almost in spite of your defense,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said afterward.
Arizona ranks 63rd nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, while in Pac-12 play it’s seventh.
What kind of whistles will get used?
An average of 40.9 fouls have been called in Arizona’s 14 games this season, but in its eight Pac-12 games the Wildcats are committing 2.25 more fouls than their opponents. The 23-16 disparity in fouls against ASU was the fourth time in Pac-12 play Arizona has been whistled seven or more times than the other team.
As a result, Arizona ranks 271st nationally in opponent free throw attempt rate, with nearly 22 percent of the points the Wildcats are allowing coming from the line. Ironically, only ASU (22.4 percent) allows more scoring with the clock stopped among Pac-12 schools, though the UA’s 17 free throw attempts were tied for second fewest the Sun Devils have yielded this season.
Miller has commented several times this season—without getting reprimanded, mind you—about how Arizona has to learn to quickly adapt to how a game is being officiated. That’s easier said than done, since last week’s UA/ASU game was loosely called in the first half before becoming a whistle fest in the second half.