No. 25 ASU men’s basketball had a sold out crowd and even had its starting lineup introduced by legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer before Thursday night's game against rival No. 17 UA, but it wasn't enough, as the Wildcats, led by freshman sensation Deandre Ayton, beat the Sun Devils 77-70.
Ayton finished with yet another double-double, tallying 25 points and 16 rebounds in UA's win over ASU (19-7, 7-7 Pac-12).
When ASU head coach Bobby Hurley was asked how he simulates preparing for Ayton in practice, he joked by saying none of his walk-ons could compare to Ayton.
“After competing against him twice, he might be the best big I’ve seen in college as a player and coach in terms of his future and upside,” Hurley said. “He’s just scratching the surface … He can step away and hit the jump shot, and he doesn’t get tired either. We had him on the perimeter running around on ball-screens … he holds his own away from the basket on defense.”
Aside from having one of the NBA’s top prospects, the Wildcats (21-6, 11-3 in Pac-12) also have the Pac-12 leading scorer in junior guard Allonzo Trier. He continued his long-time domination of ASU, finishing with 19 points on 50 percent shooting.
Although ASU was in the game for the entire second half, it was the first 10 minutes that decided the game. The Wildcats got off to a hot start, leading by as much as 18 points by the 7:33 mark.
“I feel like we emptied the tank, though,” Hurley said. “We really did. I thought that was an entertaining game to watch. I think it was a high-level game at times, both teams competed really hard, and so it was a fun game to a part of.”
ASU still managed to cut the lead to one by halftime. Most of it was due to Hurley’s decision to go to a smaller lineup at the 4:31 mark. He subbed in freshman guard Remy Martin to play alongside the senior guard trio of Shannon Evans II, Tra Holder and Kodi Justice.
With the “GuardU” lineup in the game, ASU outscored UA 12-4 in the final four minutes of the half. Martin knocked down a three and drew an offensive foul and Evans II had a three of own. To start the second half, Justice’s back-to-back three-pointers gave ASU its first lead of the game at the 18:37 mark.
Justice finished the game with 19 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. Holder added a team-high 20 points but shot 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. UA figured out how to defend Evans this season, however, as he has scored a combined 12 points through both meetings – five points in the most recent matchup.
An up and under layup by Justice tied the game at 63 with 3:48 remaining in the game, but UA relied on Ayton and Trier separate itself from ASU. A Trier three and Ayton tip-in putback and dunk gave the Wildcats a 70-63 lead with 1:25 remaining in the game. The Wildcats made their free throws and secured yet another road victory.
Hurley has yet to defeat UA since becoming ASU’s head coach, and the Wildcats now have a three-game road winning streak against the Sun Devils. Such a streak has not happened since the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak from from 2003 to 2007.
“This is tough all the way around,” Justice said. “I mean we competed but we have to find ways to not dig ourselves holes so early. Last time I was in the (media room), we were talking about UCLA and how we got off to a fast start. And when we get off to fast starts, it usually leads us playing more free, our defense going and stuff like that.”
ASU will hit the road to face Oregon on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Matthew Knight Arena at 9:30 p.m. MST.