Arizona State will play for the first time in two weeks and No. 19 Arizona will be back on the court after last Sunday’s controversial loss at No. 8 Utah when the rivals meet Sunday in Tempe at 3 p.m.
The Sun Devils (7-9, 0-7 Pac-12) needed the break after forfeiting the games at Utah and Colorado last week because of a lack of healthy scholarship players.
“The reality is there was no decision to be made,” ASU first-year coach Natasha Adair said last week. “With few healthy scholarship players time to heal is our only option. Our plan is to get our team healthy over the course of this week and be ready when we host Arizona.”
Arizona (14-4, 4-3) is coming off an 80-79 loss at Utah in which Alissa Pili went to the foul line and made both shots with 0.3 seconds left after it appeared that Esmery Martinez cleanly blocked her shot.
The controversial ending, in which Pili somehow was able to catch the ball not facing the basket, dribble and change her shot in 1.6 seconds, overshadowed the performance of freshman Paris Clark.
Clark made a shot after a rebounding Martinez’s missed free throw and then made a steal and nailed a shot in the lane to Arizona ahead 79-78 with 1.6 seconds left.
Clark’s valuable playing time of 13 minutes in which she had eight points, five rebounds and two assists offset the 22.1 seconds played by one of Adia Barnes’ top reserves, Madison Conner.
Barnes fielded questions about Conner after the game and she mentioned it was more about matchups and that Conner was not injured. Conner did her work on the bench, constantly cheering on her teammates and not sulking.
“That’s what people don’t understand,” Barnes said about the questions regarding her personnel decisions. “They don’t understand there’s matchups. There’s different combinations that aren’t good together, defensively at all or offensively. So, those are the things that people don’t get.”
Barnes’ stamp on Arizona’s program since her hire in 2016-17 is mostly defense with a few capable offensive players mixed in, such as Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas.
She has said more than once that this year’s team is different — mostly capable on offense but not as potent on defense — and she and her staff are trying to work toward balance.
Arizona is the lone team in the Pac-12 with four players averaging at least 11.1 points per game — Cate Reese (12.7 points a game), Shaina Pellington (12.6), Jade Loville (12.1) and Esmery Martinez (11.1).
The Wildcats are No. 22 nationally in 3-point percentage at 36.7.
Arizona also leads the Pac-12 and is sixth nationally in steals per game at 12.5, so the potential on defense is there.
“Last year we couldn’t score,” Barnes said. “This year we can score but we don’t have anybody with a real defensive mentality — like the want and the will to shut their opponent down. That’s a mentality.
“I think that we’re also not as athletic as we’ve been in the past. I recognize that we’re getting better, but I don’t think there’s anybody on the team that has been focused on defense.”
Loville, one of her most potent players on offense, returns to Desert Financial Arena for the first time since transferring to Arizona after last season.
In the last game involving Arizona and ASU in Tempe 11 months ago, Loville finished with 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the line in the Sun Devils’ 81-77 upset of the sixth-ranked Wildcats.
She scored 13 in the second half, many of which came on tough midrange shots with the shot clock winding down and defenders on her. She also had eight rebounds.
Loville is averaging 12.1 points per game this season while shooting 41.3 percent (31 of 75) from beyond the arc.
She does have eight steals, which is tied for ninth on the team, and has 24 turnovers to go with 15 assists, so Arizona is hoping her best games are ahead.
— Martinez is fifth in the conference in rebounds per game at 8.3.
— Helena Pueyo is first in the Pac-12 and 30th nationally in steals per game with 2.7. She has made at least one steal in every game this season.
— Conner’s free-throw percentage of 94.7 ranks ninth nationally.
— Arizona outrebounded Utah 30-26 in last week’s game. The 26 rebounds by Utah were its fewest in any game this season.
— The Wildcats shot 52.4 percent against Utah for their second-best field goal percentage in a conference game this season.
— Arizona held the edge against the Utes on points off fast breaks 18-4.
— Reese had her best scoring performance of the season at Utah, with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field. She added 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the year. The fifth-year senior also had three assists, two blocks and one steal.
— Loville had 17 points in the matchup with the Utes, her 13th game of the year in double digits.
— Pellington totaled 10 points (5-of-7 shooting) in Salt Lake City along with a career-high five steals.
— The Dec. 29 game against Arizona State at McKale Center was the highest-attended of the season at McKale Center so far with 9,495 fans. Arizona will have at least three busloads of fans who will be attending the game today at Tempe.
— Arizona continues to lead the Pac-12 in attendance after Friday’s games.
2022-23 PAC-12 WOMEN'S BASKETBALL ATTENDANCESOURCE: PAC-12
Through games of January 20, 2023
ARIZONA STATE NOTES
— Charli Turner-Thorne has retired and Arizona hopes ASU’s dominance in the series has gone with her. The Sun Devils have won 30 of the last 40 meetings, Arizona has won six of the last nine games, however. The Wildcats’ 58-53 win on Dec. 29, 2019, was its first in Tempe since the 1999-2000 season. ASU swept the season series in 2015, 2016 and 2018 and has split with the Wildcats in 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022. Arizona on Sunday is going for only its second season sweep over ASU in the last 23 years.
— Junior guard Tyi Skinner, who transferred to ASU from Delaware in the offseason, does not let her height at 5-foot-5 affect her play. Skinner, who has scored in double figures in every game, is second in the Pac-12 and 18th in the nation in scoring (20.5 points per game). Currently the Pac-12 leader with 10 games with at least 20 points this season, Skinner needs eight points to reach 1000 for her career. She scored 26 points in Arizona’s 84-66 win on Dec. 29 at McKale.
— Jaddan Simmons is ASU’s most experienced player with starts in all 65 games she has played. A starter in all 15 games she has played this season, Simmons opened with nine straight double-digit scoring games, including a career high-tying 22 points in ASU’s season opener vs. Northern Arizona on Nov. 7. Matched with Skinner in the backcourt, Simmons is the team leader in assists per game (3.1), minutes per game (36:46 — first in the Pac-12 and 18th in the nation) and blocks per game (0.93).
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.