Rivalry week: critical games for UA, ASU women’s hoops

It’s rivalry week for Arizona’s Pac-12 women’s teams, as University of Arizona and Arizona State face off twice in back-to-back games beginning tonight in Tucson and playing again on Sunday afternoon.  And, for both teams, these are particularly important games.

They both desperately need the wins to help salvage what is left of the season, since both teams come into tonight’s contest with losing records.  The fact that both wins would be against a bitter rival is just icing on the cake.

(*Update: Arizona took the first game into double overtime before succumbing once again to ASU, unable to stave off a potent offensive effort by the Devils.  ASU was led in the 81-77 victory by Promise Amukamara’s 21 points, and 18 apiece from Joy Burke and Haley Videkis.)

These teams are evenly matched this year, if you go by results so far.  ASU is 11-15 overall and 3-11 in the conference.  The Wildcats come closer to breaking even at 12-13, and are a game ahead of the Sun Devils in Pac-12 play with a 4-10 mark.

To say that their seasons so far have been disappointing would be an understatement.

Consider this:  ASU hasn’t won a game since the Devils beat USC on January 25, so they roll into the Old Pueblo on the tail of a seven-game losing streak.  And Arizona just snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating Utah over the weekend. OK, not exactly an upset; the Utes are a .500 team sitting in a tie for seventh place in the Pac-12.

So it’s easy to see why both teams could seriously use a couple of confidence-building wins right now.

The Cats come into tonight’s game with a little momentum after their 61-52 win over Utah.  ASU enters the contest on an offensive uptick. The Sun Devils are averaging under 55 points a game in conference play, but put up 63 points in a losing effort Sunday to No. 21 Colorado.  They’re just the third team this season to score more than 60 on the Buffs.

ASU spreads the scoring around, with senior Janae Fulcher leading the way with just a tad better than 12 points per game. Arizona relies on its big gun, Davellyn Whyte, the senior guard from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix who is averaging just over 16 points an outing, while throwing in 4.6 assists and 2.6 steals per game.

It has been a turbulent year for both head coaches, and a chance to pick up a rivalry win would go a long way. Charli Turner Thorne has been frustrated trying to get her Sun Devil program back on track after taking last season off for a personal sabbatical from her head-coach duties.  And Niya Butts is still trying to turn the corner on a rebuilding effort in Tucson she began in 2008.  She got the Cats to 20 wins two years ago, her only winning record so far, but fell to a last-place conference finish last season.

ASU has won the last three match-ups with the Cats and beat them in their last encounter at the end of last season, when the Devils posted a 68-53 victory in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.

From the looks of things, this might be the year Butts gets a decent shot at beginning to even the record.  After all, the Cats beat Utah – which beat ASU by eight points.

A couple of wins would certainly help to soften the impact of another sub-par season for a coach who would like to get a little more time to prove she can actually get this rebuilding project on track.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)