Tonight’s ASU vs. UA rivalry game will make hoops history

Tonight’s rivalry game between the Arizona and Arizona State women’s basketball teams gets a place in the record books without even determining a winner.

This will be the first time the two teams have met when both are ranked among the nation’s top 25, the Wildcats at No. 18 and the Sun Devils No. 16.

Since the game is being played in Tucson, the UofA athletic department has been drumming up some extra support, publicly announcing that the goal for tonight is to put 10,000 fans into the seats at McKale Center.

(*Update: The Wildcats got their wish for a full house as 10,160 fans filled McKale Center to watch Arizona pull off its first season sweep of ASU in 20 years, 59-53 — an almost identical score to the 58-53 result in the first game. The Cats used a 38-35 rebounding advantage and long-range shooting accuracy (nine 3’s) to finish off a win that, again like the first game, wasn’t decided until the final minutes.)

When the two teams met in the first of their two annual meetings, it was in Tempe where the Sun Devils drew less than half of Arizona’s lofty goal. There were 4,009 fans in Desert Financial Arena to watch the Devils drop a 58-53 decision.

But this game has all the essential ingredients to draw a big crowd.

The two teams are as evenly matched as they have ever been. In addition to almost identical national rankings, Arizona’s overall record is 15-3 and ASU comes into the contest with a 15-4 mark.

And the game itself could be a barn burner, much like it was when the two teams met on Dec. 29. That game went right down to the wire and could have gone either way.

The Sun Devils spent most of the game playing catch-up, but had cut the Wildcats’ lead to a single point with just over a minute left to play. But the Cats made four of six free throws in the final 36 seconds, while the Devils missed their last three shots and two free throws, and Arizona went home with a 58-53 win.

ASU controlled the rebounding (47-41), but it was shooting woes that stymied their comeback effort. The Devils finished the game with 30 percent shooting from the floor, 11 percent from behind the arc, and 58 percent from the line.

Don’t expect that to happen again tonight.

ASU has been having much more success lately against ranked teams, pulling off stunning back-to-back wins over No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State two weeks ago, while Arizona lost three in a row, including both Oregon schools that ASU beat and then-No. 10 UCLA.

Both teams are coming into tonight’s game following sweeps of the Washington schools last weekend.

Arizona will be motivated by a desire to chalk up its first season sweep of the Devils in the last 20 years.

The Sun Devils also have an additional motivation in tonight’s contest. They want to help head coach Charli Turner Thorne, in her 23rd season in Tempe, notch her 500th career win (459 at ASU, 40 at NAU).

ASU has pretty much owned this rivalry series in recent years. The Devils have won 28 of the last 34 meetings. So history is on their side.

And tonight they’re coming into McKale with a huge chip on their collective shoulders after losing the first game.

The Wildcats may need all the help they can get tonight. Those 10,000 fans could really come in handy.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics/ Simon Asher)