No. 7 Wildcats pull away in second half to beat rival Sun Devils
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona played two months without its top returning player, suffered through a slew of injuries and lost an emotional final home game.
The Wildcats found ways to fight through the setbacks all during the regular season and could not have asked for a better finish: With a win over their biggest rival and at least a share of the Pac-12 title.
Allonzo Trier scored 19 points, guard Rawle Alkins grabbed 15 rebounds and No. 7 Arizona pulled away in the second half for a 73-60 victory over Arizona State on Saturday.
“It’s really an amazing group of kids that we have,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I don’t know if any team I’ve been a part of has seen more adversity, more things to overcome and handle as well as this team has.”
Arizona was without Trier for the first 19 games due to suspension and lost to then-No. 5 UCLA at McKale Center last week in a disappointing final game for its seniors.
The Wildcats still had hope for a solid finish to the season by beating Arizona State for the second time, giving them at least a share of the title with No. 6 Oregon, which played later Saturday.
Arizona (27-4, 16-2) was out of sorts at both ends in the first half against the Sun Devils, but shut them down defensively to sweep the season series.
Arizona controlled the glass for the second straight game against Arizona State, grabbing 23 more rebounds — 18 more in the second half — while scoring 14 second-chance points on 15 offensive boards. Arizona gave up 19 second-chance points against UCLA last week.
“We heard about it a lot, so we decided to make a conscious effort to rebound better this game,” Trier said . “Rebound and play defense is what we do.”
Arizona State (14-17, 7-11) was effective at slowing Arizona with its zone in the first half, but had no answer when the Wildcats began attacking in the second.
Kodi Justice had 17 points and Torian Graham added 12 for the Sun Devils, who also struggled offensively in the second half.
“For us to give up 73, I would think we would have a good chance to win based on how our offense is,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “But we just didn’t have a great night on that end of the floor and Arizona had a lot to do with that.”
Lauri Markkanen scored a career-high 30 points and Arizona jumped out to a big lead in the first meeting, rolling over the Sun Devils 91-75 in Tucson.
Arizona State got off to a much better start and was more aggressive back at home , within 30-29 of the Wildcats at halftime.
The Wildcats were better at both ends to start the second half, scoring the first 10 points.
Arizona’s defense prevented the Sun Devils from mounting a comeback. Markkanen continued to struggle with his perimeter shot — 0 for 5 from 3-point range — but had two emphatic blocked shots, one on Shannon Evans II , the other on Graham.
Arizona State made 8 of 28 shots in the second half.
“It felt like the energy we had in the first half wasn’t there in the second half,” Justice said. “We started picking it up, but they just kept making more plays and hitting shots on the other end.”
After a strong start to the season, Markkanen has struggled from the perimeter over the past month, hitting 5 of 31 from 3-point range since the start of February.
The Finnish 7-footer has continued to find ways to contribute during his slump with his rebounding and, at least against Arizona State, his defense.
Markkanen finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots after blocking three total shots the first 17 conference games.
“The switch went on for him and he started to block a lot of shots,” Miller said. “He’s learning how to be more instinctive to use his size, whether that be a blocked shot or a rebound. Today, he really utilized both of those to win the game for us.”
Arizona will be at least the No. 2 seed for next week’s Pac-12 Tournament and is in position for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, barring a letdown in Las Vegas.
Arizona State again had trouble with the Wildcats length, at times putting Justice on the 7-foot Markkanen.
Arizona opens the Pac-12 Tournament in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Arizona State plays in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday.
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