Wildcats looking to re-establish dominance over Sun Devils

Nick Johnson (13) fires up the McKale Center crowd during Arizona's 73-58 win over Arizona State last March.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

TUCSON, Ariz. — The long history of the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry in men’s basketball will show the Sun Devils have little chance of coming to McKale Center and pulling off a victory.

As for the current lay of the land  — the rosters, the rankings, the environment — advantage Arizona, sizably.

Arizona State (13-4, 2-2 in Pac-12) is 1-7 all-time against teams ranked No. 1. Those seven defeats include three against Arizona, by an average margin of 22.6 points.

The Sun Devils get a fourth shot at a No. 1-ranked Arizona (17-0, 4-0) team on Thursday night in McKale Center in a game to be televised by FOX Sports 1 (7 p.m. MST).

It will be a tall order for the Sun Devils to go where no team has gone yet this season, and yet, the short history of the series will show, well … we’re saying there’s a chance.

From 2008 through today, the Sun Devils are a surprising 7-6 against their in-state rivals. Not since since 1978-83 has ASU enjoyed such a successful stretch against the Wildcats.

Of course, there’s a caveat. The first five wins in that 13-game stretch, in succession, came when Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell were guiding the Wildcats during two years of coaching turmoil.


In Sean Miller’s tenure, the Wildcats are 6-2, including a sweep last season and five wins in the last six. Arizona fans would like to think order has been restored.

"You have to be careful in making one (game) bigger than the next," Miller said of the in-state battle. "Make no mistake, we understand the significance of the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry. But we also understand the importance of being at home."

Home or road hasn’t mattered much to the Wildcats this year. No one has had their number, leaving them as one of only three unbeaten teams (Syracuse, Wichita State).

"Each game is as big as the next," said Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon. "If you take one off, you might take a loss. If you look it at that way, I don’t buy into rivalries as much."

During the Lute Olson era, this wasn’t much of a rivalry. The Wildcats were  43-6 vs. the Sun Devils, losing only once (in double overtime) in Tucson. But over the last six seasons, it’s been a 3-3 split at McKale.

UA has scheduled a "red-out" for Thursday night, encouraging fans to wear red.

"If you (normally) wear red, wear more red, and if you’ve (forgotten), please remember," Miller said, smiling.

In ASU, Miller sees a veteran opponent that won’t be easily intimidated. Point guard Jahii Carson is averaging 21.3 points per game in road games, senior center Jordan Bachyncski has an NCAA-leading 78 blocks and senior guard Jermaine Marshall, a Penn State transfer, has proven to be a capable sidekick to the talented Carson.

"When Arizona State is at their best he seems to have a big night," Miller said of Marshall. "He’s a capable scorer."

Miller said Marshall reminds him of former UA guard Mark Lyons, a veteran guard who has been through plenty of big games and moments.

"That experience is something you draw (from)," Miller said.

That goes for Bachynski, too. Last season he set a Pac-12 record with 120 blocks and is the oldest player in the league (24).

"He anchors their defense, and on offense he just picked up where he left off and is more sure of himself," Miller said. "You can’t underestimate what he (does) … They have a very good team."

Miller said he expects Arizona’s 7-foot sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski to be up for the challenge of facing Bachynski.

"One of the things Arizona State has is a veteran, older club," he said.

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