Tommy Lloyd predicted this.
During a press conference Friday, Lloyd dismissed the insinuation that the difference between Arizona and ASU’s records meant the Wildcats were in for a huge bounceback victory after their loss at UCLA.
“At this time of the year, it’s about winning,” Lloyd said. “The end all, be all is just finding a way to come out on top.”
Arizona took those words to heart, gutting out an oh-so-unpretty 67-56 win over the Sun Devils on Saturday afternoon.
A sold-out “Red Out” crowd at McKale Center saw the third-ranked Wildcats (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) trail by as much as eight in the first half and shoot only 32.2 percent but make up for that by going 26 of 32 from the line compared to 8 of 15 for ASU (6-12, 2-6).
Arizona was 18 of 21 from the line in the first half, making its first 13 attempts, and its scoring from the field didn’t surpass its foul shot production until nearly five minutes into the second half. ASU missed half its 10 foul shots in the second half.
Bennedict Mathurin and Oumar Ballo had 14 points apiece for Arizona, though Ballo was 4 of 6 while Mathurin went 5 of 16 after going 5 of 22 at UCLA, while Christian Koloko had 12 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, three assists and three steals on the heels of making the Naismith National Defensive Player of the year watch list.
It was tied at 32 at the half, despite Arizona shooting only 24.1 percent in the opening 20 minutes, but after ASU’s Jay Heath hit a 3-pointer 16 seconds into the second half the Wildcats ran off six in a row—all by Mathurin—for its first lead of the game.
A 3 by Kerr Kriisa, ending an 0 for 16 stretch that saw him go scoreless for more than 73 consecutive minutes of game time, put the UA up 41-37 with 15:25 left. His feed to Tubelis, his first of the game, gave the Wildcats a 47-44 edge with 11:52 remaining, and a deep 3 upped the advantage to 50-46 with 10:16 to go.
ASU got within 50-48 with 8:19 left but Arizona responded with 10 in a row, including a banked 3 by Pelle Larsson and a 3-point play by Justin Kier to make it 60-48 with 5:20 to go. The Sun Devils missed a pair of 1-and-1s during the UA run, ending a four-minute scoring drought when Jamiya Neal made 1 of 2 from the line with 4:10 left.
The Sun Devils turned it over 17 times, with Koloko’s steal and slam with 3:29 left sealing the victory.
Arizona didn’t make its first basket until nearly four minutes into the game, the points coming on a steal and dunk by Dalen Terry, who hung on the rim afterward in an unofficial homage to the 2014 UA/ASU game in Tempe when Jahii Carson did that for the game-winning basket (and Terry was there as an ASU ball boy). It didn’t make its first jumper until 1:06 left in the first half.
The Sun Devils built a 7-point lead before Arizona tied it at 18 and 20, but ASU scored eight in a row including two DJ Horne triples to lead 28-20 with 4:10 to go. Horne led his team with 17 points but was just 1 of 8 in the second half.
The Wildcats ended the first half on a 12-4 run, tying it at 32 on a Ballo free throw with 22 seconds left.
Next up for Arizona is a rematch with No. 7 UCLA, this time at McKale Center, on Thursday night.