No. 25 ASU seeks revenge against rival Arizona

TEMPE, Ariz. — If revenge is a dish best served cold, Arizona State should be well positioned for its second meeting with Arizona.

It has been seven weeks since the Wildcats ruined Arizona State’s unbeaten season when the Pac-12 rivals met in Tucson on Dec. 30, and the Sun Devils will look to break even Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.

No. 25 Arizona State (19-6, 7-6 in Pac-12) has won three in a row and returned to the AP Top 25 after a week away by sweeping USC and UCLA last weekend, its first sweep in conference play and the first time it has been above .500 in league play.

Coach Bobby Hurley credits an attention to detail on defense for the Sun Devils’ best run since it opened the season 12-0 and reached No. 3 in the poll before an 84-78 loss at Arizona in the Pac-12 opener for both.

No. 19 Arizona (20-6, 10-3) split with the Los Angeles schools last weekend and has lost two of three since reaching No. 9 two weeks ago.

“It’s what you dream of playing in,” said Tra Holder, Arizona State senior guard and leading scorer, who has not beaten Arizona since his freshman year.

“The fans are rowdy. The game’s intense. As a competitor, that’s what you want growing up. This is the day you work hard for. I wouldn’t say (revenge). I know the game has a deep meaning as far as where you want to be at the end of the year.”

Holder had 31 points in the first game but was one of the few bright spots for the Sun Devils, who shot 37.9 percent from the field. Holder was 6 for 12 from the floor and made 15 of 16 free throws, but the other starters were 10 for 36 from the field.

“We didn’t play our best offensive game and a lot of the credit goes to Arizona and their game plan and their desire to defend,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said at the time.

“We’re happy to see we’re playing better. Our defense has been performing at a pretty good level.”

Wildcats’ athletic 7-foot center Deandre Ayton had a hand in the Sun Devils’ shooting problems in Tucson. He blocked three shots, contested others and was active when asked to defend the perimeter on switches, moving the Sun Devils a step or two back from their favorite spots.

Ayton was at it again on Saturday, when Arizona recovered from a deflating 82-74 home loss to UCLA — its first home loss of the season — with an 81-67 victory over USC. He had 18 points and seven rebounds, and was aggressive and active on defense.

“He is so gifted and when he’s playing like that, with energy … ,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of Ayton.

“It’s not his shot-blocking, it’s his quick movement away from the basket at his size. I thought he set the tone. Our defense was night-and-day (from the UCLA game). Even when they scored, they earned it.”

Ayton and 7-footer Dusan Ristic helped the Wildcats to a 40-22 rebounding edge against USC, and forward Rawle Alkins had 20 points.

Alkins had offseason foot surgery and has played in only 14 games. He did not play in three of the Wildcats’ losses and did not shoot well in their other three.

Ayton, who could be the first player taken in the NBA draft if he foregoes his eligibility, is averaging 19.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in Pac-12 games. He also is averaging 2.2 blocked shots.

Arizona guard Allonzo Trier, a possible NBA first-rounder, is averaging 18.0 points a game and has made 33 threes.

Holder is averaging 17.5 points a game and teammate Shannon Evans II is at 16.7 with 39 3-pointers.

“We’ve been in these type of games,” said Hurley, whose team has beaten Xavier and Kansas. “What makes it better is that we have won a few. We don’t have to feel that desperation.

“This game is very important, and we are going to attack the game, but it doesn’t seem like our backs are up against the wall like they might have been in some other games we played.”