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Arizona men’s basketball shakes off early deficit to blow past ASU on the road

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TEMPE—The last time Arizona played with fans in attendance at McKale North, it lost despite holding a 22-point lead in the first half. Two years later, the Wildcats decided to get the bad part out of the way first.

Fourth-ranked Arizona fell behind 14-1 before it could blink yet didn’t panic, taking the lead midway through the first half and eventually running away with a 91-79 win at ASU on Monday night.

The Wildcats (20-2, 10-1 Pac-12) outscored the Sun Devils by 25 points over the final 34-plus minutes, overcoming a turnover-heavy first half and some hot 3-point shooting by ASU early on to win its fourth straight over the Sun Devils (7-14, 3-8).

“They punched us, man,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd. “That’s a gut-check win in a tough environment against a rival.”

Reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Azuolas Tubelis led Arizona with 19 points and 11 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double, while Bennedict Mathurin had 18, Pelle Larsson added 14 (on 5-of-5 shooting) and Oumar Ballo posted a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) in 21 minutes off the bench.

“Now we’re counting on him to do those things,” Lloyd said of Ballo. “Before we were hoping.”

Arizona shot 56.7 percent overall and 60 percent in the second half, with 23 of its 34 baskets coming on dunks or layups as it outscored ASU 52-28 in the paint. ASU shot 42.3 percent and was 13 of 30 from 3, but after making 4 of its first 5 missed 16 of its last 25 from deep.

The Wildcats led 40-36 at the break despite turning it over 12 times, which ASU converted into 21 points, and for the game gave it away 20 times. Kerr Kriisa—who had his left thumb and wrist taped up just before play resumed—drained a 3 to open the second half and then after ASU got on board the UA ran off three quick baskets to build a 49-38 lead.

“The start of the second half, that looked like (our) team in early December, which was special,” Lloyd said.

Five of Arizona’s first eight baskets were dunks, including two by Koloko and another by Dalen Terry in a 74-second span during a 10-0 run to put the UA up 59-40 with 15:04 left. ASU looked very much like a team that was less than 48 hours removed from a triple-overtime win over UCLA on Saturday, unable to get back as the Wildcats ran at will over the final 20 minutes.

Back-to-back baskets by ASU’s DJ Horne got it within 13 with 13:51 remaining, but the Wildcats scored the game’s next eight points to go up 68-47 with 11:13 to go. Arizona later got a rare 5-point possession when Larsson drained a 3 as Mathurin was being fouled off the ball, and he made both ends of a 1-and-1 to make it 77-53 with 8:37 remaining.

ASU came out on fire, particularly from outside, making its first 3 triples for a 9-0 lead and a fourth made it 14-1, prompting Lloyd to call a timeout with 16:51 left in the first half. The Sun Devils were up 16-3 before the Wildcats settled down on offense, producing an 11-0 run capped by a Mathurin 3-pointer.

Ballo’s putback tied it at 19 with 11:07 left, then Arizona took its first lead at 23-21 on a Tubelis layup with 8:59 left.

The spread remained two or fewer until Larsson scored five points during a 7-0 run to put the Wildcats up 36-31 with 1:59 left before the half. Larsson’s drive gave the UA a 40-32 lead with 56 seconds to go, and Arizona had a chance to get the lead to double digits but Kriisa turned it over twice in the final 13 seconds.

Arizona continues a 3-game road swing Thursday at Washington State (14-7, 7-3) and then Saturday at Washington (12-9, 9-9).