(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
Just two days after No. 1 Arizona State and No. 3 Colorado State dueled to a 5-4 Sun Devil win, the MCLA will see another clash of titans as ASU travels to Boulder, CO to take on the No. 2 Colorado Buffaloes (4-1).
A lot is riding on this game, as the winner will almost certainly be the top-ranked team once next week’s rankings are released. The Sun Devils (6-0) have a chance to assert a league-wide statement. If they come out of the Colorado trip unscathed, they will be the consensus No. 1 team.
However, don’t let Colorado’s one loss fool you. The Buffs are still among the most dangerous teams in the MCLA, and their destruction of two top-5 teams (No. 4 BYU, who they beat 17-7; No. 5 Boston College, who they beat 15-6) can’t go unnoticed.
This is a vengeance match for the Sun Devils, who were knocked out of the MCLA’s Final Four last year, after a last-minute go-ahead goal from Colorado propelled the Buffaloes into the national championship game. ASU hasn’t beaten Colorado since 2011, and the Buffs hold a narrow edge in the all-time series record, 4-3.
Colorado’s home loss to Michigan State last week does sting, but they have a chance to avenge it against ASU, the team that leapt them in the polls. The Buffaloes have typically been known for excellent defense and goaltending, but this year it’s been the offense that has taken care of business.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
Colorado hasn’t been held under double-digits once all season, and with an average of exactly 15 goals a game, it’s hard to imagine any defensive unit controlling the pace of the game. With three goal-scorers already into double-digit goals on the season (including attackman Jack Cranston, whose 6.8 points per game is No. 1 in the nation), the dynamic unit will look to keep rolling on Saturday.
Enter immovable object, a.k.a. Arizona State’s defense.
The Sun Devils have torn apart every offensive scheme they’ve faced, with the only outlier being an 11-8 victory against No. 12 Chapman. Even with that game included, ASU is allowing only 5.3 goals per game.
The defensive unit of senior Ian Connell, sophomore Nick McEneany, and freshman Matt Wallace will eye to break down the Buffs’ attack piece by piece.
Players to Watch
For Colorado, keep an eye on goalie Mitchell Fenton. The senior has finally gotten the starting job after sitting behind star goalie Bradley Macnee for three years.
Playing as a goalie in a defensive scheme that allows a large number of shots isn’t an easy feat, but Fenton has pulled it off about as well as Buffs’ fans could’ve hoped. He’s recorded an impeccable average of 16.8 saves per game (good for 8th in the MCLA). While his 9.0 goals allowed per game isn’t much to write home about, he’s made the stops when they matter and he’s had the help of an excellent offensive effort all season long.
On the Sun Devils’ side, it’s also going to be the goalie, Chris DeLuca.
He hasn’t faced an offense this dynamic all season long, and he will likely see more shots on goal in this game than he has against any other opponent. He may see his stellar goals allowed average (4.4) rise a bit, but this game could very well come down to his ability to step up with the game on the line.
This is the hardest game of the year to predict. Both of these teams have been outstanding, and while ASU boasts the better record, Colorado has played the tougher schedule.
Because the Buffaloes are at home, they should be the favorite in this one. It’s not easy to imagine this offense stalling, but it’s just as difficult to picture Arizona State’s defense letting up any ground.
Colorado 9, ASU 7. It should be a back-and-forth match-up, but the Sun Devils won’t be able to keep up down the stretch. Regardless of the outcome, it could and should be the MCLA’s regular season match-up of the year.
You can watch the game live, courtesy Comcast, on WCSN’s Live Broadcast page. The broadcast begins at 12:45 p.m. MT, and the game’s opening face-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.
You can reach Trey Lanthier by email at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TreyLanthier.