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No. 6 Arizona women’s basketball heads into back-to-back rivalry games against ASU

Oregon State v Arizona Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

It took Arizona State women’s basketball a while to get on the floor against Pac-12 opponents. COVID-19 protocols within the programs of the Sun Devils and their opponents meant they sat on the sidelines for the first three weeks of conference play. They have made up for lost time.

Since starting conference play on Jan. 21, the Sun Devils have played four games against ranked opponents. They are 2-2 in those games and 3-3 overall in Pac-12 play. Their games against No. 6 Arizona this weekend will mean that six of their eight games in league play have come against a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 at the time the game was played.

The Wildcats have a different challenge. They need to avoid letting a tough ASU team from doing what it did at the end of last season—upsetting Arizona in Desert Financial Arena. Last year, the Sun Devils closed out the regular season with a two-point overtime victory at home over their rivals.

The challenge is even bigger this season since the two teams will face each other twice in three days.

“Beating someone back to back for either team, it’s hard,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “So I think it’s going to be a fun weekend. It’s going to be physical.”

Physical defense will almost assuredly be the deciding factor in the game. Both Arizona and ASU have built identities on being tough defensive teams.

“They’re really aggressive, like high octane tenacious defense,” Barnes said. “Very different than anybody else. Because if you think of Oregon, Oregon State, they’re more playing percentages. Stanford, if you can’t shoot, they don’t guard you, so they play more scout-specific. So the only high-pressure teams I would say are ASU, us, and probably UCLA, but everybody else they’re not denying, they’re not like full-court pressing all games. I think all three of us have more aggressive styles.”

Backing that up is the fact that in five of the last eight meetings between the two teams, at least one of them has been held below 50 points. In two of those games, Arizona has held ASU below 40.

On the offensive end, the Sun Devils have relied heavily on Boise State transfer Jade Loville. Arizona now has two players averaging double digits in scoring with Cate Reese (15.0 PPG) and Shaina Pellington (10.3 PPG). For ASU, their lone player to break that barrier is Loville.

Loville is fourth in the conference with 16.5 points per game. Against other Pac-12 teams, she’s even better. She is leading the league with 19.2 PPG in conference play. A big part of that is improving her outside shot.

When she was with the Broncos, Loville never shot better than 27.8 percent from outside. That was her freshman season. As a junior last year, Loville shot just 13.5 percent from beyond the arc. This year, she is hitting 43.9 percent of those shots, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12. However, those numbers have dropped since league play started. Against Pac-12 foes, she’s hitting 31.6 percent of her 3-pointers.

The Wildcats expect to have a large contingent of fans in Desert Financial Arena on Friday night. Barnes said that they are sending two busses of fans from Tucson and others will be driving up. They hope to have the kind of support that the Arizona men have always had in “McKale North” before heading home for the second matchup on Super Bowl Sunday.

No. 6 Arizona (17-3, 7-3) @ Arizona State (11-8, 3-3)

When and where: The first game of rivalry weekend will tip off at 7 p.m. MST at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Ariz. on Friday, Feb. 11.

TV: The game will air on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Arizona. Cindy Brunson (play-by-play) and Joan Bonvicini (analyst) will be on the call.

Radio: The radio call by Brody Dryden will be on 1400 AM (KTUC). The broadcast can also be accessed online at The Varsity Network or on the station’s website.

Stats: In-game stats will be available at Arizona Live Stats.

Rankings and ratings: Arizona is ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA poll. The Wildcats are No. 8 in the NET and in Her Hoop Stats’ rankings.

ASU is not ranked in either major poll. The Sun Devils are No. 43 in the NET and No. 62 in the HHS ranking

Home and away: The Wildcats are 3-3 on the road. The Sun Devils are 9-2 at home.

Standings: ASU is in seventh place in the Pac-12 with a 3-3 record. Arizona is third with a 7-3 record but has the chance to move into a tie for second with a victory.

Projections: Her Hoop Stats gives the Wildcats a 76.2 percent win probability in Desert Financial Arena. The model predicts 60.8 points for Arizona and 53.6 points for Arizona State. It also gives Arizona a significant advantage in both probability and scoring margin on a neutral court or in Tucson.

How to follow: Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm or on our Facebook page for regular coverage during the week. For live tweets during games and other coverage, follow our deputy editor on Twitter @KimDoss71.