LAS VEGAS — With seven minutes and five seconds remaining in the second half of ASU's Pac-12 basketball semifinal matchup with No. 8 Arizona, senior guard Devan Cambridge finished a tough layup to cut Arizona's lead to 56-52 in a game ASU had not led since early in the first half.
That was the last field goal the Sun Devils would make in their Friday night rubber match against rival Wildcats at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The proceeding seven minutes saw a 22-7 Arizona scoring run and ended with a 78-59 ASU loss and the team's semifinal exit.
"I had a vision of and I could see us cutting down the nets, and it just didn't come to fruition," said ASU men's basketball head coach Bobby Hurley after the game.
ASU didn't shoot well from the field at 29.4% in the first half but shot well deep, knocking down six of 17 3-pointers. Arizona's offense looked formidable, dictating the entire game's pace and dominating the paint. Arizona's juniot forward, Azuolas Tubelis, scored six quick points before leaving the game due to foul trouble.
Arizona's balanced offensive attack got each of the Wildcats who played in the first half on the board and earned Arizona a 35-28 halftime lead.
ASU and Arizona exchanged 4-0 runs to open the second half behind an aggressive surge from sophomore guard Frankie Collins who scored six quick second-half points. Nevertheless, Arizona only extended its lead to nine, opening the half with more hot shooting as the Wildcats finished 56.4% from the field and 52.6% from 3-point land.
Despite solid 3-point shooting from Arizona in the second half, junior guard DJ Horne kept ASU in the game with a personal 6-0 run, then countered an Arizona run to push the lead to 10. The Wildcats started the second half shooting 3-5 from 3-point range and 7-10 overall.
After a hot 6-11 start for ASU from deep, ASU failed to make a 3-pointer in the game's final 25 minutes, despite 15 attempts.
To slow Arizona's offense down, Hurley implemented a full-court press and matchup zone that did just enough to allow ASU to hang around with just under eight minutes remaining as ASU trailed Arizona 56-49.
The Wildcats closed the game by knocking down four of its last five shots to put the game out of reach. Ultimately, ASU could not stop Arizona's interior offense which did the Sun Devils in.
Arizona junior center Oumar Ballo and Tubelis combined for 31 points on 15-21 shooting, and Arizona outscored ASU in the paint 40-22.
"Their interior players were outstanding tonight," Hurley said. "There's a reason why they're considered maybe the best tandem on the front court in the country. They were really good."
ASU will enter Selection Sunday with signature wins over Arizona in Tucson and against Creighton and Michigan at neutral sites. The Sun Devils are squarely on the bubble, with ESPN's Joe Lunardi projecting them as the last team selected for the tournament.
Before tip-off, ASU was included in 72 of 102 brackets analyzed in bracketmatrix.com's aggregation of available bracket projections. Hurley made his closing argument to the committee during the post-game press conference.
"I've been through the process, and I understand the evaluation process," Hurley said. "You respect other teams that have had good seasons and are being considered as we are. I truly believe that if you take our three best wins and compare them to other bubble teams, I don't think it's close."
Arizona's head coach Tommy Lloyd concurred.
"I feel like they're a tournament-worthy team," Lloyd said. "I know this — if you match up with them in the NCAA Tournament, you're not going to sleep well."
The NCAA Tournament selection show is Sunday, March 12, at 4 p.m. MST and will be broadcast on CBS.
Edited by Walker Smith and Piper Hansen.