Defense was the difference in the second half for Arizona men's basketball on Saturday as it walked away with a 73-60 win over ASU at Wells Fargo Arena.
Freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen anchored Arizona on the defensive end, coming up with three key blocks and making his presence felt in and around the paint. The Finnish forward ended with just 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, but his impact on the other end proved valuable for the Wildcats (27-4, 16-2 Pac-12.)
"(Arizona) did a much better job in their ball screen defense than they did in our first game," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "Their bigs moved fairly well on their hedging and switching, and we didn't quite make the plays off the dribble that I thought we could in those situations."
Wildcat defense aside, it was an off night overall for the Sun Devils (14-17, 7-11 Pac-12) on offense. Junior guard Kodi Justice led the way with 17 points, but ASU shot 35 percent and turned the ball over 10 times, with a number of the turnovers coming in big situations.
"It felt like the energy we had in the first half wasn't there in the second half," junior guard Kodi Justice said. "We started picking it up, pressuring and making plays but they just kept making more plays and hitting shots on the other end."
The Sun Devils' lack of size reared its ugly head on both ends, too, as the Wildcats won the rebounding battle 50-27 and picked up 34 points in the paint. A valiant effort by ASU was all for naught when matchup problems were eventually exposed.
It was one of ASU's best defensive games all season and they trailed by just one at the half, but they never got back within eight after Arizona started the second half on a 10-0 run. This was a testament to the Wildcats' discipline and determination.
"All night I don't feel like we played as well as we could on offense," senior guard Torian Graham said. "I honestly think we did enough on defense, but it was just our offense today."
The Sun Devils honored Graham and forward Obinna Oleka before the game for senior night as the duo played their final game at Wells Fargo Arena. Hurley said he wished his team could've gotten the win for his seniors.
"I feel for Obi and for Torian," Hurley said. "We wanted to try and send them out on a high note with a great win versus a good opponent."
Another opportunity to finish on a high note is ahead in Las Vegas next week, where ASU will aim to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils' first game is at 12 p.m. Wednesday, with their opponent yet to be determined.
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