It’s the start of another 3-game road swing for No. 7 Arizona, which sits at 19-2 overall and 9-1 in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats beat ASU 67-56 in Tucson on Jan. 29, but the Sun Devils (7-13, 3-7) are coming off a triple-overtime upset of No. 3 UCLA on Saturday night.
Arizona has won three straight over ASU, including an 84-82 win in Tempe last January on Azuolas Tubelis’ last-second putback. The Wildcats last won consecutive games at Desert Financial Arena from 2016-18 when they won three in a row.
Here’s what to watch for when the UA and ASU tangle up north:
Being on the other side of the rematch
Arizona got its revenge on UCLA a few days ago, beating the Bruins 76-66 to atone for a 19-point loss in Los Angeles nine days earlier. Coach Tommy Lloyd said his team made a lot of adjustments from the first UCLA meeting to the second, and it showed.
Now comes a second opportunity to learn from an earlier result, but this time the Wildcats will be the ones trying to prevent vengeance.
“We know it’s going to be tough,” Lloyd said. “We expect it’s gonna be a bare knuckle boxing, knockdown drag out (game) and we’re built for it.”
Lloyd noted that USC, whom the Wildcats had just rallied to beat after trailing by six, were “in a dogfight” at ASU two days earlier. His opinion on the Sun Devils no doubt improved after they knocked off UCLA later that night.
More of the same?
Arizona’s 11-point home win over ASU came in the wake of its loss at UCLA, and saw the Wildcats grind through what at the time was its slowest-paced game at 70 possessions. Saturday’s win over USC was even more plodding, with just 64 possessions.
The UA still plays at the fastest pace in the Pac-12, averaging 72.3 possessions per 40, but its last five games have all been under that mark as opponents try to slow the Wildcats down.
“I think we can win a lot of ways,” Lloyd said. “We’re a great defensive team. So at the end of the day, that’s probably going to be your calling card. Play great defense, and then hopefully certain nights you’re explosive on offense, but obviously that’s going to be tough to do that every single day. So we’re more than comfortable getting in games like that. We’ll run opportunistically, we’re going to keep pushing the pace.”
Arizona shot only 32.2 percent last time against ASU, this coming after a 30.7 percent effort at UCLA. This past weekend the Wildcats shot 48 and 47.3 percent, respectively, averaging 52.5 field goal attempts after coming in averaging 64.7 shots per game.
Foul line failings
Arizona averages 22 free throw attempts per game, 12th-most in the country, and in Pac-12 play it’s tops at 22.6 per game. The Wildcats are 12-0 when taking 20 or more free throws, which they did the last three games against ASU (32), UCLA (30) and USC (24).
But after going 26 of 32 against ASU, an 81.3 percent clip, it shot only 66.7 percent from the line against both UCLA and USC. For the season the Wildcats are shooting 72.6 percent, which is fifth-best in the Pac-12.
“I think we’re a good free throw shooting team,” Lloyd said, who noted how well the Wildcats have shot late in games compared to earlier. “I think our guys need to step up, take a breath and make them. You just got to understand, a point at the 13-minute mark in the first half is equal to one with 13 seconds to go. You got to step up and make them.”
ASU shoots a conference-worst 62.8 percent from the line, going 18 of 26 (69.2 percent) against UCLA and 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) in the game in Tucson. The Sun Devils are also last in both offensive and defensive free throw attempt rate.
This will be the first time fans will be in attendance for an Arizona-ASU game in Tempe since Jan. 25, 2020, when the UA blew a 22-point first-half lead and fell 66-65 on a last-second basket. The arena was empty a year later when Tubelis gave the Wildcats an 84-82 victory, but a big crowd is expected for this rescheduled matchup, which was originally set for a Saturday afternoon in early January instead of a Monday night in February.
“I hope their gym will be packed,” Tubelis said.
ASU drew 9,135 for Saturday night’s UCLA game, its second-largest crowd of the season behind the 11,391 on hand for a December matchup with Grand Canyon. Not surprisingly, the Sun Devils’ last sellout (13,500) came against the UA in 2020, and as was the case that game there figures to be a large number of fans in red and blue for this one.