(Photo: Josh Orcutt/WCSN)
Winning two of their last three games, the Arizona State Sun Devils travel to Tucson to take on the No. 12 Arizona Wildcats to try and split the Territorial Cup series for the third consecutive season.
After building up a lot of momentum following victories over Washington State and USC, ASU failed to defeat UCLA despite putting themselves in a great position to do so, but it failed to convert on the offensive side of the floor. The offensive firepower ASU was riding on from the last two games had seemed to stall for no particular reason.
Two Sun Devils who didn’t disappoint were junior forward Obinna Oleka, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, as well as junior guard Andre Spight, who posted a career-high 21 points and seems to finally be getting into a rhythm after struggling for much of the season.
Other than the missed layups, the most concerning aspect of the stat sheet was the lack of production from sophomore guard Tra Holder, who only had five points. Arizona head coach Sean Miller said on Tuesday that “there’s not a better guard in our conference than Tra Holder,” while also adding he is one of the best in college basketball.
Miller’s Wildcats have won five-straight after losing consecutive matchups to Cal and Oregon in late January, but anything can happen when the Wildcats and Sun Devils get together.
Despite being the far more dominant program in the last decade, UA has split the last 18 matchups with ASU 9-9, only UCLA has more wins over the Wildcats in the last nine seasons.
In their last meeting on January 3, Arizona prevailed getting the 94-82 victory despite losing their last two games at Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils were within six with 1:14 remaining, but a technical foul and ejection for ASU head coach Bobby Hurley as well as good free throw shooting down the stretch from the Wildcats prevented a Sun Devil comeback.
With the emergence of Holder as well as the elevated play of Oleka and Spight, ASU has come a long way since its last meeting with Arizona, and while the win column may not speak for the improvement, there have been flashes of it on the court.
Keys to the Game
Keep Andersen off the Glass
Senior forward Ryan Andersen has been a breakout player for the Wildcats this season and is their biggest threat inside. In his first year in an Arizona uniform after transferring from Boston College, he is averaging 15.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Both he and fellow senior big man Kaleb Tarczewski are monsters on the glass, but Andersen’s ability to stretch the floor makes him the biggest problem for the ASU bigs.
Fortunately, the ASU frontcourt is made up of players that stretch the floor as well. Oleka as well as senior forward Willie Atwood and junior forward Savon Goodman both have proven capable of guarding stretch players, and keeping a constant rotation of fresh legs could give Andersen frustrations that not a lot of other Pac-12 teams can provide.
Take care of the ball
One of the few advantages the Sun Devils have on paper against Arizona is with their turnover margin. ASU lies in the top half of the conference with a +1.19 turnover margin, while Arizona is found in the rare bottom half with a -1.19 turnover margin.
With sophomore point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright getting the start for Arizona in this game instead of junior guard Kadeem Allen, ASU could use their different defensive looks that they have displayed in the last few games to keep Jackson-Cartwright off balance, and force turnovers in a hostile environment.
Keep it under 75
In both of their ranked wins this season, the Sun Devils have not scored more than 75 points (74 against USC, 67 against Texas A&M). These have both been ASU’s strongest defensive performances of the season although they may have not been the best on the offensive end.
What ASU cannot do is get in a shootout against a more talented team. When it rides its defense and lets the offense feed off its defensive energy, good things have happened.