Ayton, Trier lead No. 17 Wildcats in handing 1st loss to No. 3 ASU
TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona State trailed by nine or more points in five games and came back each time while building a program-best 12-0 nonconference record and a No. 3 national ranking.
The surprising Sun Devils couldn’t quite pull that off, though, in the noisy hostility of McKale Center.
Freshman sensation Deandre Ayton had 23 points and 19 rebounds, including a crucial tip-in with 11 seconds to go, and No. 17 Arizona held on to hand the Sun Devils their first loss of the season, 84-78 on Saturday night.
Allonzo Trier, who missed his first six shots but finished with 23 points, made a pair of free throws to put the Wildcats (11-3) ahead 82-78 with 10.3 seconds to go in the teams’ Pac-12 opener and one of the most anticipated matchups in the rivalry’s history.
Trier insisted it was no bigger game than any other.
“Not for me,” he said. “We expect to win. We know we’re good basketball team. We knew it would be a tough game.”
Arizona withstood a 31-point performance by Tra Holder of the Sun Devils (12-1), including 15 of 16 free throws. But the other two usually sharpshooting Arizona State guards, Shannon Evans and Cody Justice, were a combined 5-for-23 shooting, 2 for 14 on 3-pointers.
“I’ve given Arizona State a lot of praise over the last couple of weeks,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, “for no reason other than I believe that. What we got tonight is what we expected.”
The Wildcats beat the Sun Devils in Tucson for the eighth straight time in what was the 7-foot-1 Ayton’s first experience in McKale at its loudest. The students are on holiday break but you wouldn’t have known it.
“It was nice,” Ayton said. “It was intense. I couldn’t hear myself for a few minutes.”
Arizona State’s loss left no unbeaten teams remaining in NCAA Division I after No. 1 Villanova and No. 10 TCU lost earlier in the day.
“We didn’t play our best offensive game and a lot of the credit again goes to Arizona and their game plan and their desire to defend,” said Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley. “We are a far better offensive team and we just didn’t have our best stuff at that end of the floor.”
Up 39-37 after a tight first half, Arizona was up 62-50 after Dusan Ristic’s dunk with 10:53 remaining.
The Wildcats went cold and Holder scored the final nine in an 11-2 Arizona State run. His baseline floater after an Arizona turnover cut the Wildcats’ lead to 64-63 with 7:59 to play.
Holder had a chance to put Arizona State ahead but missed a breakaway layup. Evans missed the tip.
The Sun Devils went back up by 10, but Justice’s 3-pointer cut it to 78-76 with 1:19 to play. Trier missed a drive, but Ayton tipped it in to make it 80-76. Holder’s two free throws made it 80-78 before Trier’s two from the line clinched the win.
Miller emphasized that as nice as it was, this was only the conference opener.
“We have 17 games left,” he said. “We have to play Arizona State there, which will be a monster game.”
Ayton and the 7-footer Ristic dominated the game inside despite a game-high six turnovers. He made 9 of 14 shots. His 19 rebounds eclipsed his previous high of 18 against Alabama two weeks ago.
Ayton was a handful for Arizona State’s Romello White, who took only two shots and scored two points with eight rebounds.
“I would say they’re undersized big men,” Ayton said, “so I took advantage on both ends of the floor.”
The Sun Devils managed to shoot just 38 percent, 32 percent in the second half (12-of-37), when they made only 3 of 15 3-pointers.
They entered the game shooting 51 percent overall from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils were in it all the way and did nothing to diminish the idea that they are a legitimate Pac-12 contender.
Arizona: The Wildcats have won eight straight since their 0-3 disaster in the Bahamas. Their performance on Saturday night showed that Arizona, ranked No. 2 nationally in the preseason, still could be the team to beat in the conference.
Arizona State: At Colorado on Thursday night.
Arizona: At Utah on Thursday night.
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