ASU, Arizona women stagger into basketball Duel Sunday

Like two punch-drunk fighters staggering back to the center of the ring, the Arizona and Arizona State women’s basketball teams will square off on Sunday for the annual Duel in the Desert.

Arizona got off to a 6-0 start this season and is 11-4 overall.  But the Cats are still reeling from a pair of nasty double-digit losses.

ASU is sporting a 10-4 record, but is also coming off back-to-back losses.

Both are still standing, as they prepare for Sunday’s game in Tempe.  But there have to be some lingering doubts as they lace up for the annual slugfest, which will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net.

Before last week’s games, this one looked like a sure thing to the folks at Fox.  The teams both got off to a 2-0 start in the Pac-10, but now they’re 2-2 and in a five-way tie for third place.

Now, it’s more a match-up of embarrassed programs.

Both got bloodied by No. 4-ranked Stanford, and are still reeling from those encounters since they played just last week.

Arizona got beat last week by the Cardinal, losing by 33 points in Palo Alto.  ASU suffered its reality check against Stanford the same week, but lost even bigger.  The Cardinal handed the Sun Devils an embarrassing 47-point schooling.

ASU was on a seven-game winning streak, but dropped its last two games to Stanford (82-35) and California (67-55).  Cal isn’t in the same strata as Stanford, but the 10-4 Golden Bears are good enough to test a team like ASU.

Arizona, too, is coming off a pair of losses as they were swept last week by the Bay Area schools.  In addition to the 87-54 loss to Stanford, the Cats also lost to California by 20 points, 80-60.

Sunday’s contest looks like a good pairing, based on records.  Even if the game has lost some of its luster.

That’s great news for Arizona, a team that has struggled in recent years against their cross-state rival.  The bad news is the game is in Tempe this year, where the Sun Devils are 7-0 this season.

This is the 79th time the two teams have met in the Duel and ASU leads the series, either 48-30 or 46-25 – depending on which school’s stats you use.  The Cats lost both games with ASU last year and haven’t beaten the Devils at Wells Fargo Arena in almost 11 years.

Arizona has three players that the Sun Devils will need to keep in check.  All are averaging in double-digits.  Davellyn Whyte, a sophomore guard from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, is leading the way with a 15-point average.  She drained 23 points in the Cats’ last game against Cal.

Senior forward Ify Ibekwe is right there with Whyte, averaging 14.7; and Shanita Arnold, the senior point guard who transferred in from University of Arkansas, contributes 11.7.

Arnold has assumed the full-time point guard role and is playing 32 minutes a game, dishing off six assists per outing.

Dymond Simon, a redshirt senior guard who is also from St. Mary’s High School, leads the Devils in scoring with a 14-point average per game.

Ibekwe has been a beast on the boards for UA this season, leading the Pac-10 with 10.5 boards per game.  ASU counters with Kimberley Brandon, who snags just over six a game.

Arizona is ranked in the top three in the conference in scoring offense and field-goal percentage.

But they’ll probably have to do better than the 34 percent they shot in their last game against Cal to win this one.

(Photo: ASU Athletics/Jason Wise)