Arizona sits alone atop the Pac-10 and has a chance to inch closer to its first regular-season conference championship since 2004-05. The Wildcats, though, aren’t taking their matchup with last-place Arizona State lightly.
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Seeking a season-best sixth consecutive win, the 15th-ranked Wildcats look to avoid a seventh loss in nine games when they visit the rival Sun Devils on Sunday night.
Lamont Jones continued his impressive play with multiple key baskets in Arizona’s thrilling 107-105 triple-overtime win Feb. 5 at California, finishing with a career-high 27 points.
While leading scorer Derrick Williams fouled out late in regulation, Jones forced overtime with a three-point play with 16 seconds remaining, made a tying 3-pointer with seven seconds to go in the second OT, then scored with just over a minute left in the third overtime to put the Wildcats (20-4, 9-2) up for good.
“I’ve played like this my whole life,” said Jones, who is averaging 17.4 points – 7.6 more than his season mark – over his team’s five-game run. “To other people it might be something new, but to me it’s just another day in the life of MoMo Jones.
“I said before I came here that when I came here Arizona was going to get a clutch player. Arizona was going to get a big-time player. Things take time.”
Williams, named to the Naismith Trophy midseason 30 list Friday, is averaging 19.6 points but matched a season low with 12 against the Golden Bears.
Arizona had lost six of seven versus Arizona State prior to an 80-69 home victory Jan. 15 thanks in large part to Williams’ career high-tying 31 points and 10 rebounds. Williams is averaging 22.0 points in three career games in the series.
The Sun Devils (9-14, 1-10) enter Sunday on a season-worst seven-game losing streak, but Wildcats coach Sean Miller knows his team will be in for a challenge and isn’t overlooking the conference foe.
“I think the furthest thing from the truth is to look at this game as for us nothing to gain or a trap game or something from that nature,” Miller said. “I think anyone who really looks at the game from that perspective doesn’t have a real good feel for the Pac-10 or both teams.”
Arizona State, mired in its worst skid since losing 15 straight Dec. 22, 2006-Feb. 15, 2007, is led by Trent Lockett and Ty Abbott, averaging 14.0 and 13.1 points, respectively.
Abbott finished with three points in an 83-75 loss at Stanford on Feb. 5 after sitting out the majority of the second half with a back injury. Abbott, averaging 21.0 points in his last two meetings with Arizona, is likely to be available Sunday.
The Sun Devils have lost their two matchups – both on the road – against ranked teams this season by an average of 13.5 points.
They have, however, taken five of their last eight against Top 25 opponents in Tempe.
Coach Herb Sendek’s squad is 0-4 at home in conference games, with the last three coming by a combined seven points.
Arizona State has lost nine straight versus ranked Wildcats teams since defeating No. 10 Arizona 88-72 on Jan. 23, 2002.