Arizona St.-Arizona Preview
Arizona's success on the glass is a big reason why it is off to the best start in school history.
Arizona State's frontcourt has struggled in that area but has the nation's top shot blocker anchoring it.
The matchup of centers Kaleb Tarczewski of the top-ranked Wildcats and Jordan Bachynski of the Sun Devils figures to be the highlight of Thursday night's Pac-12 matchup in Tucson.
Arizona (17-0, 4-0) has surpassed the school-record 16-0 start from 1931-32 thanks in part to a frontcourt that consists of the 7-foot Tarczewski, 6-8 Brandon Ashley and 6-9 Aaron Gordon. The Wildcats have won the rebounding battle in 16 games this season and rank among the nation's leaders with a Pac-12-best plus-10.7 rebound margin.
"I think that's a real asset for them," Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. "I think it helps them on both ends of the floor and most significantly it makes them a great rebounding team."
Arizona State (13-4, 2-2) is last in the Pac-12 at minus-0.4.
More pressure figures to be placed on Bachynski, the conference's second-best rebounder with 9.4 per game. The 7-2 Bachynski is known more as a shot blocker, with 4.6 per game.
"I think Kaleb's looking forward to it," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "I think all of our guys are looking forward to the game against Arizona State. It's a big game for us, it's a game that our fans care a lot about, it's a home conference game."
Bachynski totaled 11 points and seven boards in two losses to Arizona last season in which Tarczewski had 14 and 16. The Wildcats, who have won five of six in the series, held a rebounding advantage of 18 in the 2012-13 meetings.
The problem for the Sun Devils this season is that their second-best rebounder is Shaquielle McKissic, averaging 5.1. Arizona has four players who average that many, led by Gordon's 7.9 per game.
In a season in which freshmen such as Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky's Julius Randle have drawn most of the attention, Gordon has provided steady play in averaging 12.2 points for an experienced team.
"All we need to do is win," Gordon said. "That's what I came in saying and that's what I'm going to stick to. If you win and I think I know how to win with a really good team like this, then the pressure is non-existent."
Both teams' leading scorers are natives of Arizona as they vie for bragging rights. The Wildcats' Nick Johnson averages 16.3 points and is eight shy of 1,000 for his career while Jahii Carson averages 18.1 for the Sun Devils.
A newcomer to this rivalry is Jermaine Marshall, a senior transfer from Penn State averaging 15.6 points for Arizona State. Miller compared him to Mark Lyons, who played one season for the Wildcats in 2012-13 after coming over from Xavier.
"A lot like Mark Lyons did for us a year ago, it's not just his points per game and his ability to play," Miller said. "He's older, he's experienced, he's been through Big Ten seasons. He's been in hostile environments."