The University of Arizona basketball fans who showed up in McKale Center for last night’s rivalry game with Arizona State were no doubt satisfied with the Wildcats’ 16-point win.
But they failed to come away from the game with the other prize moment they were hoping would be included in the 91-75 win.
Yes, ASU coach Bobby Hurley did get a technical foul when he ventured too far out onto the floor during a high-intensity moment in the second half. But he managed to keep his seat on the bench – unlike his first meeting with Arizona, on his own court in Tempe, when the second-year coach picked up two techs and was ejected in the game’s final minute. Since then, he’s been a favorite target for Wildcat fans who have laid the ‘crybaby’ label on him.
The 45-year-old Hurley can heat up like a microwave during an important game like last night’s. Arizona coach, Sean Miller, is also a fiery and passionate competitor. And that’s going to make future rivalry games between the two Pac-12 coaches all the more interesting.
Right now, that’s the best thing they’ve got going because ASU hasn’t closed the gap yet on talent levels. Miller has been bringing in top-10 recruiting classes since he arrived from the University of Pittsburgh to take over the Tucson program in April of 2009. Hurley has had less than two years on the recruiting trail, but has been showing some impressive results.
But Miller still has a six-year head start.
Last night that disparity in talent – and size – was on full display as the Wildcats’ pair of seven-footers dominated under the rim, while Arizona’s length and quickness on defense stifled the Sun Devil scoring. The Cats, ranked No. 16 nationally, jumped out to a 12-0 lead and held the Sun Devils scoreless from behind the three-point line throughout the first half. When those treys don’t fall, the ASU offense struggles to win games.
Arizona’s towering presence in the paint, 7-footers Lauri Markkanen and Dusan Ristic, both imports from abroad, combined for 46 points and helped give the Cats a 38-22 advantage on the boards. The Wildcats picked up 19 second-chance points off of 12 offensive rebounds.
A look at rosters around the country shows that Arizona appears to be the only D-I major that starts two 7-footers in its line-up.
Two other Arizona players finished in double figures last night, with redshirt senior guard Kadeem Allen collecting 18 points and freshman guard Kobi Simmons adding 13 more.
But give the Sun Devils, who are playing with just seven scholarship players right now, some credit. Going into the game, Arizona was leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing just 60.8 points a game. And over the season, they have held opponents to an average 45 points. ASU managed to put 75 on the score board – but still fell short of its 82-point average.
ASU didn’t hit its first basket of the game until the 17:14 mark when Torian Graham found his way through the Arizona defense for a clean lay-up to make the score 12-2. Then, three consecutive 3-pointers by Markkanen stretched the lead to 29-12 with eight minutes still to play and the margin ballooned to 24 points before the Cats took a 45-25 lead into the locker room at the half.
The Devils got to within eight points in the first half, despite missing all nine of their 3-point attempts. But Arizona’s early lead was too much to overcome; the Cats piled on with 57 per cent shooting for the game.
Obinna Oleka led ASU scorers with 22 points, a career high for the 6’8″ senior forward, while Tra Holder chipped in 20 points and Graham added 18.
(Photo: Chris Hook /Arizona Athletics)