The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team beat Arizona State 69-60 on New Years Eve. It marks the “start” of Pac-12 play (even though both teams had two conference games under their belts in December) and is a good barometer for each team at the midway point of the season.
For the No. 5 Wildcats, it was a chance to move up the rankings after former Arizona coach Sean Miller led Xavier to a win over No. 2 Connecticut (coached by Bobby Hurley’s brother, Dan). For ASU, it was a chance to show where they stood against the elite Pac-12 program and to flush a rough loss against San Francisco last week.
While Arizona came out swinging and held a 17-point lead at halftime, their nine-point win felt much closer than the final score let on.
A few takeaways from Saturday’s tilt:
Good teams find ways to win when things go sideways – Arizona is a good team
After ASU erased the 17-point halftime deficit to just two points, the Wildcats’ most consistent players went to work. Oumar Ballo and Azuolis Tubelis accounted for 10 of Arizona’s remaining 19 points to come away with the victory. Reserves Henri Veesar and Cedric Henderson Jr. hit big shots to give Arizona some breathing room. Arizona will have to find different ways to win as it navigates the conference and a postseason run. The hot shooting did not last and the Cats had to adjust. They were on the receiving end of an Arizona State run, and they figured it out.
‘Cats Got To The Line
Arizona was able to go right at the ASU defense and get to the line early. The Wildcats got to the free throw line 28 times to ASU’s 10 chances. They hit 24 free throws with Ballo, Tubelis and Kerr Kriisa all hitting six free throws each.
That limited Warren Washington to just nine first half minutes and both Cambridge brothers eventually fouled out. The Wildcats got the easy opportunities and took advantage when they got to the line.
Warren Washington is a game-changer
Bobby Hurley has never had a big like Warren Washington. Early on in this season, he’s averaging eight points, seven rebounds and is third in the Pac-12 with two blocks a game. He brings the athleticism of Zylan Cheatham and the in-paint presence of Romello White but has a seven-foot frame. He can guard a tank like Oumar Ballo but run in transition seamlessly. Really, the only thing that has limited him this year is foul trouble early in the game.
That was the case in Saturday’s game. He only tallied nine minutes in the first half and zero field goal attempts. Coming out of the half, he had two quick buckets and ended the day with six points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He also helped limit the in-paint progress for Ballo and Tubelis that helped fuel the comeback for Arizona State.
We learned more about Arizona State than we did about Arizona
Even in the loss, I feel like this was a statement for who Arizona State was on Saturday. They were coming off the shellacking against San Francisco and could have rolled over in the second half against the No. 5 team in the country. But they dictated the tempo and style of the game, limiting a team that averages 90 points to under 70. If ASU doesn’t start 2/16 from beyond the arc or are able to score more than nine points off Arizona’s 13 turnovers, we might be talking about an upset in Tempe.
Let’s do this again on February 25…and in Vegas
That is why this rematch in Tucson will be fun on February 25. Playing at McKale is a whole different ball game, but this is Bobby Hurley’s deepest and most talented team top to bottom. Let’s see how high Arizona can climb in the rankings ahead of this matchup and if ASU can have a number ahead of their name too.
While we’re at it, let’s run it back again in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament. Vegas usually becomes Tucson-north during that week, but ASU fans should look at hotel blocks because this feels like a different Sun Devil team that could see the postseason if they win the games they are expected to win. Arizona is expected to be in that final matchup in the weekend, but I think both teams can make noise.