ASU men's basketball is set to play local rival UA on Saturday, Jan. 29, in Tucson for the first of two meetings this season.
The long-standing in-state rivalry has featured many top games in the past, and Saturday might not be any different. UA leads the matchup 39-13 in 52 games played since 1996.
UA is on a two-game win streak in the series with ASU’s last win coming on Jan. 25, 2020, when the Sun Devils won 66-65. Since then, the Wildcats have won all their games against the Sun Devils, including last year’s 80-67 win. ASU is looking to change things and get back in the win column on Saturday.
“It’s a big rivalry. I’m from Arizona and I know some guys on the other team. They are playing really good this year, so it’s going to be a big game,” junior forward Jalen Graham said during a press conference Thursday.
For ASU to come out victorious, the team will need to shut down third-ranked Arizona’s potent scoring offense. In order to do so, the Sun Devils must control key players — sophomores Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis. Mathurin leads the team in points per game, averaging 17.4, while Tubelis is right behind him averaging 14.7.
ASU, which is coming off a tough loss against USC, will be a bit short-handed on Saturday.
The Sun Devils will be without standout sophomore forward Marcus Bagley, who has been out with an injury. Junior forward Alonzo Gaffney also sustained an injury during Monday’s game, and although he hasn’t been officially ruled out, head coach Bobby Hurley said that “it’s not looking good at the moment” during Thursday’s press conference.
Hopefully for the Sun Devils, there is a good chance that graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence will return from his non-COVID related illness.
“My role is going to be pretty big so I need to stay focused and stay out of foul trouble,” Graham said.
The Sun Devils, who currently sit at 6-11, will have a very tough opponent on their hands. Arizona is the third-ranked team in the nation and is coming off a tough loss against UCLA, making them extra motivated. Hurley expects his team to play well both offensively and defensively if they want to beat the Wildcats.
“Arizona statistically is really good in so many different categories that it’s kind of scary. They nationally have performed so well,” Hurley said. “They have good bigs and they are a very good passing team, hard defensively and excellent in transition. They’re as good as any transition team that I've seen on film in a long time.”
ASU and UA will tip-off at 12:30 on Saturday at the McKale Center in Tucson.