Yes, it is true that ASU won the last matchup with Arizona when both teams were ranked, in 1995 in a double-overtime thriller, but even then it is not the greatest game played between the rivals at McKale Center.
Arizona played that game, won by ASU 103-98, without Damon Stoudamire and Ben Davis because of suspensions while they were investigated for alleged NCAA violations in which both were later exonerated. The Wildcats also played without injured center Joseph Blair, who was nursing a sprained ankle.
Tonight’s game might prove to be a classic with both teams apparently at 100 percent and ASU entering the game No. 3 in the nation with a 12-0 record and Arizona at No. 17 with a 10-3 record and winners of seven consecutive games. Despite the difference in rankings and ASU coming in unbeaten, Arizona is a 5-point favorite in Las Vegas.
The greatest game at McKale Center played between ASU and Arizona occurred on Feb. 1, 1975, when ASU entered No. 12 in the AP rankings and Arizona was No. 15.
They played in front of the largest crowd at McKale at the time with 14,521 in attendance. The largest crowd of 15,176 showed up to watch Arizona beat ASU 88-75 on March 4, 1978.
In the 1975 game at McKale, ASU survived with an 83-81 victory over Fred Snowden’s Wildcats. Ned Wulk’s Sun Devils were led by guards Lionel Hollins, Rudy White and Mike Moon.
The Wildcats’ size inside with Bob Elliott and Al Fleming had difficulty matching ASU’s quickness. Sound familiar? Arizona has a decided size advantage tonight with Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic going against the Sun Devils’ very active guards.
The trio of Hollins, Moon and White made 16 of 23 field goals in a first half which saw ASU hit almost 62 percent (21 of 34) from the field. It staked the Devils to a 46-39 halftime lead.
Herman Harris, coming off the bench, started to drill in shots from the perimeter and helped the Wildcats go on a 17-3 run to tie the game at 65 with 7:14 remaining.
ASU took advantage of Arizona’s turnovers and poor shooting to build a 79-70 lead with 2:21 left. Making matters worse, Elliott fouled out with 1:44 remaining after producing 20 points and nine rebounds.
Fleming (20 points and 15 rebounds) responded by scoring seven of Arizona’s last nine points, cutting the deficit to one.
White and Moon made clutch free throws in the waning seconds. A desperation shot by Jerome Gladney from the free-throw line at the buzzer missed by inches and the Sun Devils prevailed.
ARIZONA VS. RANKED ASU TEAMS (1-11)
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Sixteen Arizona turnovers aided ASU into nine layups. The Devils actually made one less field goal (35 to 34).
Arizona had a decided rebounding advantage because of its size, with a 49-27 margin, but that was negated by ASU’s hot perimeter shooting.
Wulk also had his defense sag on Elliott and Fleming, leaving guards Jim Rappis and Gilbert Myles open from the perimeter. Rappis and Myles combined to only make 8 of 25 shots from the field.
“That was our plan the whole game,” Hollis told the Tucson Citizen. “They’ve got good guards in Myles and Rappis, and they both can shoot. They didn’t, though.”
He added with a grin, “That Myles, he should have come to ASU,”
Hollins (who went on to a stellar NBA career), Moon and White combined to make 24 of 40 shots from the field for 53 points.
“Our kids played well, but not quite well enough to get it done,” the late Snowden told the Tucson Citizen. “They didn’t quit and came barreling back. Unfortunately, the ball just didn’t go down for us (46 percent shooting compared to ASU’s 54.8 percent).
“I’m disappointed we didn’t win but I’m far from disappointed with my team.”
The loss was only the third at the time for Arizona since McKale opened in 1972. Two of those losses came against ASU.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.