They didn’t exactly storm the castle gates, but Arizona’s Pac-12 basketball programs did manage to squeeze into the win column in yesterday’s conference openers.
Both teams won, but it took overtime in each case to do it.
The University of Arizona Wildcats actually came back from the dead to pull out their win after Sabatino Chen banked in a three-point shot to give Colorado the apparent win at the buzzer – but the officials discovered upon replay that the ball didn’t leave his hand in time to beat the clock.
That proved to be the heart-stopping drama in that game. The Cats slowly pulled away from the Buffaloes in overtime, eventually winning by almost double digits, 92-83.
But Arizona State kept its fans on the edge of their seats right down to the final seconds of overtime before pulling out a thrilling 55-54 win over Utah.
While the win was important for both teams – every conference win is important – Arizona had more riding on the line in this one. The Cats are undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the country, their highest national ranking since Sean Miller took over the program four years ago; a loss to an unranked team would have rocked their foundation.
That’s why hearts beat fast in the stands as Arizona fell behind by 17 points in the first half, recovered momentarily, and then slipped back into a 16-point hole with 12:40 left in regulation.
While the Buffs aren’t ranked, they brought some impressive stats into the game. They sported a 10-2 record, were averaging 73 points a game, shot 47 per cent from the field and almost 40 percent from behind the arc, and were out-rebounding opponents by seven boards a game.
But Arizona finished with six players in double figures to be able to put up 92 points – the fifth time this season the Cats have scored 90 or better. Mark Lyons led the way with 24 points, followed by Kevin Parrom (16), Solomon Hill (15), Nick Johnson (12), and Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski each with 10.
The ASU game was a more low-scoring affair, but the Sun Devils had three players in double figures. Carrick Felix had a big night with a double-double, scoring 17 and adding 13 rebounds. The senior wing from Millennium High School in Goodyear put together 10 straight points in the early going to put the Devils in control and enable them to hold a 25-24 advantage at the half.
Jahii Carson, the freshman point guard from Mesa High School, canned 15 points, and the 7’2″ center from Canada, Jordan Bachynski, added 14.
Carson, who is averaging 17.5 points a game, struggled with his shooting most of the night, but one shot made up for that lack of production. He scored the winning basket on a hard-driving layup with 35 seconds left in the overtime period to give the Devils the win.
And then the ASU defense stepped up to deny the Utes on four scoring opportunities to hold on for the win.
Utah out-rebounded the Devils, 44-39, but ASU was productive offensively in the paint, where they had 30 points versus 20 by the Utes.
The Sun Devils’ height this year has provided an element of intimidation that has made it difficult for opponents to be effective under the basket. Bachynski has recorded 60 blocks already this season and Carrick has collected 21 – which helps explain why ASU is fourth in the nation in blocks per game with 7.9 per outing.
But it was Ruslan Pateev, the junior center from Russia, that topped the stat sheet last night. He led the way with two blocks, while his towering teammates added one apiece.
A conference home opener was a rare treat for ASU. Last night’s game marked the first time since 2008 that the Devils have hosted an opening game, when they beat Oregon, 62-54.
Arizona and ASU will flip the tables this weekend, as the Wildcats host Utah tomorrow afternoon and the Sun Devils welcome Colorado to Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday.
(Photos: Arizona, ASU Athletics)