TEMPE, Arizona—As good as Arizona State has been this season, to the point where it’s become a legitimate challenger to Arizona for in-state supremacy, there’s still one thing the Sun Devils don’t have in their favor in the rivalry.
That would be DeAndre Ayton. Then again, no one other than Arizona has a player like the 7-foot-1 freshman center, which is why despite several hiccups this season the Wildcats can’t be counted out.
Consider ASU coach Bobby Hurley sold. After Arizona’s 77-70 win, in which Ayton had 25 points and 16 rebounds, he lauded some tremendous praise.
“After competing against him twice, he may be the best big that I’ve seen in college, as a player and as a coach,” Hurley said. “He’s a special player. In terms of his future and his upside, he’s just scratching the surface.
Ayton had 17 points and 14 rebounds alone in the second half, when he grabbed seven of his eight offensive rebounds. To put that in perspective, he had more offensive boards than any ASU player had total rebounds.
His 17 th double-double of the season came a week removed from the worst game of his young career, a 7-of-19 shooting performance in a home loss to UCLA on Feb. 7.
Ayton was 9 of 12 from the line overall and 7 of 10 in the second half, when Arizona was 15 of 19 on free throws compared to 1 of 6 for ASU. For the game, the Wildcats held a 27-12 edge on ASU in foul shots and were plus-14 in points produced without the clock moving.
As good as Arizona (21-6, 11-3) looked early—it started the game on a 7-0 run and led 33-15 with 7:15 left in the first half—and down the stretch there was still a major lull in the middle. ASU (19-7, 7-7) went on a 31-6 run that over a 10-minute span across halves, trailing by just one at the break and then going up 46-39 with 17:14 to go.
But Arizona followed that with a 14-4 run to retake the lead and never relinquish it.
“It’s a game of runs, it’s basketball,” said Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier, whose 19 points included a dagger of a 3-pointer with 2:17 left as part of a 7-0 run following a 63-63 tie.
Giving up big leads and still coming out on top is starting to be Arizona’s thing, as scary as that sounds. The 18-point edge it squandered on Thursday marks the eighth time the Wildcats have been up by 10 or more only to see that edge disappear.
This is unbelievable: Arizona is 8-0 now in games in which it blew a double-digit lead down to a 2-point lead or worse. Won twice now vs ASU that way: pic.twitter.com/UypuMsM5Ad
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) February 16, 2018
Arizona is now two games clear of the field in the Pac-12 standings with four remaining, none against closest challengers UCLA and USC. It visits the Oregon schools and then hosts the Bay Area teams, against whom the Wildcats are already 4-0 this season.
“This is a big road win for us, but now it’s on to the next one,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “That’s why winning a regular-season conference championship is so special because it’s hard fought. It’s not something you do on a weekend, you do it over an 18-game schedule.”
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