The backdrop of tonight’s Arizona-Arizona State game are last week’s comments from Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley. It’s really a non-story story, but it’s been something to talk about.
There often isn’t much when it comes to this rivalry, because the Wildcats have utterly dominated the series since hiring Lute Olson from Iowa for the 1983-84 season.
ASU had a couple of windows of opportunity, winning three in a row in the mid-1990s with a group that included Mario Bennett and Ron Riley, among others, and then again when Arizona in the immediate aftermath of Olson’s retirement.
Former ASU coach Herb Sendek, with a team that included his brightest star, James Harden, won five in a row in a two-year period against UA interim coaches Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell.
Other than that, it’s been a whole lot of “Ws” for Arizona.
Olson lost just once in Tucson to Arizona State, that being a 103-98 double-overtime defeat in 1995, when Damon Stoudamire and Ben Davis were not able to play because of possible NCAA rules violations.
Arizona coach Sean Miller has been stung in Tempe a few times, but he went 2-0 against then-first year coach Hurley last season. The Cats won 94-82 at ASU and 99-61 in Tucson.
No. 16 Arizona (15-2, 4-0 Pac-12) will be going for its 10th consecutive victory this season when it plays ASU (9-8, 2-2) tonight.
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ASU’s path to victory against Arizona — which is about a 16-point favorite — is to go crazy from 3-point range.
No team in the Pac-12 shoots more often from behind the arc than the Sun Devils, who launch 27 3-pointers per game. They make 36.3 percent.
Torian Graham leads ASU’s parade of guards. He has attempted 118 3-pointers, making 39.0 percent and averaging 18.3 points per game. Tra Holder (16.8 points per game) and Shannon Evans (15.6) are more green-light shooters.
“ASU is an outstanding 3-point shooting team,” Miller said. “Looking at their style, they play with tremendous freedom, they play at a very fast pace. In transition, they thrive because they have multiple 3-point shooters on the court at once.
“In many cases, those 3-point shooters are also dynamic at getting to the basket. … Sometimes, they play four guards, which is difficult to defend.
Arizona is far less reliant on the 3-pointer but makes them at a higher percentage (38.9) than ASU. The Wildcats’ are vastly superior in the front court, in terms of height and skill, with 7-footers Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen, plus Chance Comanche off the bench.
Given that Arizona might have to down-size defensively, this could be an opportunity for 6-9 Keanu Pinder, whose backup minutes have decreased lately.
“He is exceptional defensively. He has quickness,” Miller said.
“He has size that’s different from the rest of our frontcourt players. … In this game against ASU, because of the lineup that the play, you could see where Keanu could be called upon to be able to defend and help us.”
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Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has 25 assists and just five turnovers in Pac-12 play upon his return from a high ankle sprain, figures to return to the starting lineup at some point.
“That could happen here soon,” Miller said. “I’m more concerned about minutes.”
Jackson-Cartwright was asked if he is 100 percent after his injury.
“I wish,” he said. “But that’s just not realistic. There are still some things, some little stuff, that I can’t do. But it’s close to 100 percent.”
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Hurley played at McKale Center once when he was a point guard at Duke — and it was an epic game. Arizona won 103-96 in double overtime. Arizona fans hounded Hurley with chants of “Air-ballll!” after one of his early attempts missed everything.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played in a tougher place,” Hurley said after the game.
It’s was Arizona’s 61st consecutive victory at McKale.
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Some pregame links:
AllSportsTucson.com: Arizona’s productivity report
AllSportsTucson.com: Lute Olson, Bill Frieder recall classic commercials together
AllSportsTucson.com: Markkanen makes midseason Wooden Award watch list
AllSportsTucson.com: Miller makes right move, shrugs off comments in Hurley video
Arizona Republic: Boivin: Spiciness highlights ASU-UA game
Arizona Daily Star: Bruce Pascoe’s scouting report