No. 18 Arizona and No. 16 ASU not only enter tonight’s game at McKale Center as ranked opponents for the first time, they have also each reached the 15-win plateau that is not common for both to achieve in one season since women’s hoops was formed in the Pac-12 in 1986-87.
This is the earliest in school history that Arizona has won its 15th game of the season.
And it is only the fourth time since the 2004-05 season that ASU and Arizona have won at least 15 games. It happened last year when ASU finished 22-11 and Arizona 24-13 — only the fourth time in the last 33 years that both have reached the 20-win plateau.
ASU (15-4, 5-2 Pac-12) enter tonight’s game with an RPI rating of No. 27 while Arizona (15-3, 4-3) are No. 42. The Wildcats have a quality win in terms of postseason aspirations over the Sun Devils, a 58-53 win at Tempe on Dec. 29 (Arizona’s first win there since 2000).
Arizona can make more history tonight by sweeping ASU for the first time in 20 years and potentially set a school attendance record. More than 7,000 tickets have been sold. Adia Barnes and Co. seek at least 10,000 for the first time for a regular-season game. The regular-season attendance record at McKale is 8,542 achieved earlier this season against Prairie View and that was a weekday school event in which most in attendance were elementary students.
“I don’t know many places in the country (who could crack 10,000 for a regular season game),” Barnes said. “You could never do that in L.A. You couldn’t do that in San Diego. … That’s what makes it special. Kids want to play in an environment like that. I think it’s rare in women’s basketball.”
It’s @ArizonaWBB Gameday! Be a part of history:
✔️ First Arizona vs ASU game with both teams ranked in Top 25
✔️ Largest crowd in the history of the women’s basketball rivalry
🔲 First time over 10k in attendance for regular-season home game. #BearDownfor10k #WearRed pic.twitter.com/2fROvBwKas
The Sun Devils and Wildcats enter tonight’s game with strong momentum. ASU has won six straight games, including a sweep of then-No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State at Tempe two weeks ago. Arizona swept the Washington schools last season on the road, its first conference road sweep in nine years. The Wildcats overcame a 19-point deficit at Washington, their most significant comeback since rallying from being down 15 points to beat New Mexico State in 2015.
“We’re resilient. We don’t lay down and die,” Barnes said. “We were down 19 and we were getting our butts kicked the first quarter, but we corrected it. I think we wouldn’t have been able to do that last year. So, just finding a way to grit it out and find a way to change under adversity I think was challenging, but it told me a lot about the team.”
Arizona has remained competitive in all of its games thanks to its defense, ranked fifth the country allowing only 51.1 points a game (ranking first in the Pac-12). The Wildcats’ field goal percentage defense (34.4 percent) is 13th in the nation and third in the Pac-12. They have held all of their Pac-12 opponents under their scoring average.
Other Arizona notables:
— Over its last six games, Arizona is shooting 88 percent from the free throw line (82 of 93). The Wildcats made a combined 43 free throws against the Washington schools.
— For the first time in school history, Arizona’s first four conference wins of the season have come on the road.
— Arizona has been ranked in the AP Poll for nine-straight weeks for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
— G Aari McDonald has scored in double-figures in 55 straight games, her entire Arizona career. The streak is the longest active one in the nation. Since the turn of the century, 55 games is the third-longest double-figure scoring streak among Pac-12 players. McDonald, who is 13th on the Arizona all-time scoring list, is 15th in the country in scoring and leads the Pac-12 (20.3 points a game).
— F Cate Reese scored a career-high 26 points at Washington State and made all 11 of her free throw attempts. Reese’s six double-doubles is the fifth-most in the Pac-12. Against ASU, she looks to correct her rebounding slump. After pulling down 11 boards against Oregon State on Jan. 10, she has only 11 rebounds in her last three games combined. She had 10 rebounds and 17 points in the win at ASU last month. A right hand injury suffered Sunday at Washington is not serious, according to Barnes. If Reese’s sore finger heals by tonight, Barnes said it will be the first time the team is totally healthy since November.
— F Dominique McBryde returned to action vs. Oregon State two weeks ago after missing six games due to injury and was back in the starting lineup vs. Washington State and Washington.
— F Sam Thomas is the only player in school history to have 100 career made 3-pointers and blocks and is one of two current Pac-12 players with 100 career 3-pointers and blocks (Stephanie Watts of USC is the other).
— ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne needs one more win for 500 in her career (459 in 23 seasons with ASU and 40 in three seasons with NAU).
— G Robbi Ryan, a senior who has averaged 13.3 points in the last 6 games, needs 19 points to reach 1,000 for her career. Five of Ryan’s eight double-digit scoring efforts this season have come in the last eight games.
— ASU comes into the game ranked among the top 40 in the nation in offensive rebounds per game (4th/16.8 per game), rebound margin (14th/-plus-9.4), scoring defense (21st/55.1 points allowed per game) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (28th/26.6 percent).
— ASU individual leaders in the Pac-12: F Ja’Tavia Tapley: ninth in rebounds/7.1 rpg, 19th in scoring/12.5 ppg; G Reili Richardson: 15th in assists (3.0) F Jayde Van Hyfte: Second in offensive rebounds/3.5 rpg, 20th in rebounds/6.0 rpg; F Eboni Walker: 7th in offensive rebounds/2.7 rpg; G Kiara Russell: tied for 11th in steals (1.5 spg).
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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.