It was a game as good as advertised. Heck, even Bobby Hurley said he had fun given the magnitude.
But he realizes this is not a sprint but “a marathon” as Arizona State (12-1) and Arizona (11-3) finished what was a too-good-to-be-true meeting of two ranked teams looking to get out in front of the Pac-12 race.
Arizona won the first round of what should be a doozy of a two-round fight, winning 84-78 behind the dynamic duo of Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier. They combined for 46 points. Ayton added a career-high 19 rebounds.
“Allonzo and Deandre, their performance was spectacular,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Indeed. Everyone was on both sides. In fact, the stats will show the three extra makes Arizona had were the biggest difference – 28 to 25 in made baskets.
Arizona had 20 made free throws so did ASU.
UA had eight made 3-pointers and so did ASU.
Arizona had 40 rebounds; ASU had 39.
“We are just going to regroup,” Hurley said. “This is a marathon. It’s fun to be in these games; you live for these games. It was such a hard-fought game. Both teams battling (and) both wanted to win really gad. It was a lot of fun.”
Fun for most everyone involved in McKale Center, where it was another sellout and probably the loudest it has been in a couple of seasons.
The crowd came dressed in red and only the yellow-wearing fans in the arena left blue.
“It was nice,” Ayton said of the crowd. “It was pretty intense.”
Again, it was as good as advertised. Heck, earlier in the week, Miller sounded the alarms that ASU looked to be the favorite to win the Pac-12 race given how they’ve started and were 12-0.
Trier heard nothing about that. All they knew was it was the first game of the conference season and “we are trying to win every single game we can,” Trier said.
More importantly for Arizona was able to take care of its home court. It is now 10-3 overall. And ASU is 12-1, becoming the last Division I team to lose this season.
Arizona got its best defensive performance of the season, limiting ASU to just 37 percent from the floor. It’s only the third time ASU has failed to score below 80 points.
“I don’t think that way,” Miller said when asked if it was good to hold ASU under 80 points. “The game was really funny (in that) we really came unglued in the last four minutes.”
He spoke of the final minutes when Arizona was attempting to hold on to what was once a comfortable lead. Instead, it turned into a mad scramble to survive its mistakes.
“We had some opportunities we didn’t get and we had some opportunities we gave them,” Miller said.
Miller spoke of a missed layup Parker Jackson-Cartwright had and then the ensuing position where Tra Holder got down the court quickly to inch ASU closer. It would have given UA a 12-point lead but instead it turned out to be just seven.
When asked about having a double-digit lead a couple of times – UA was up by 12 with just under 11 minutes left and another 12 with 4:11 left – and then squandering them was it good that Arizona was able to survive that or disappointing it couldn’t hold a comfortable lead.
“They’re a really good team,” Miller said. “We’re not going to beat them by 10 or 15 points. For us to win that game going away a lot of things would have had to fall into place. The difference between the two teams isn’t big enough to go that direction.”
Arizona would not have beaten them at all had it not been for the heroics of Ayton and Trier.
Trier had 18 second half points. Ayton had 15 in the second half.
“Late in the game, I felt like (Ayton) was in the paint and he was in there forever,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “When you give a guy a chance to stay in the paint that long they’re going to eventually find him and throw him the ball. He’s a pretty big target.”
And an understated one. He almost did an awe shucks when asked about his night.
“Coach (Sean Miller) broke it down to us that you don’t get excited and that we should play like this every game,” said Ayton, who numbers were good enough for his 10th double-double of the season. “Everything we did earlier in the season you can just scratch that out. We’re just on a roll right now. We’re just gotta get better and do what we gotta do to get wins.”
Said Miller, “Deandre has a great attitude and is fun to coach. He’s an unbelievable teammate. He rises to the challenge; big games bring out the best in him. He was ready for tonight’s game – thank goodness. We needed that type of effort. When we won the game it was because of his dominance close to the basket.”