Beating a top five team was a lot to ask. Beat a second in three nights. It turned out to be too heavy an order.
It was the rival Arizona Wildcats who used their superior inside game and earned a 91-79 victory over Arizona State on Monday night in a Pac-12 game in front of 13,233 spectators at the Desert Financial Arena. It was the last in a five game streak played by ASU against nationally ranked opponents.
The Sun Devils (7-14, 3-8) were coming off a triple overtime win over then-No. 3 UCLA on Saturday, but weren’t quite up to the multiple position options the Wildcats boasted.
Arizona (20-2, 10-1), which leads the Pac-12 and slipped from seventh to fourth in the latest national poll released Monday, finished with a considerable 48-26 advantage on the boards, which contributed to a 52- 28 showing in points in the paint. When they weren’t kicking the ball inside, they were going up and down quickly on the floor, benefiting from ASU’s misses and also edging out ASU in quick break points 22-6.
“We were kind of overwhelmed in a lot of ways,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “We tried to avoid points in the paint. We had been good lately in that department. It wasn’t just their size in the front court. They had a couple outings in the transition game and you could see how fast they could put points on the board.”
High percentage points in the paint helped the Visitors shoot 56.7% (34 to 60). Arizona had six players who finished in double figures with 6-foot-11 sophomore forward Azuolas Tubelis finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin, a top contender for Conference Player of the Year honors, scored 18 with five rebounds and three assists while 7-foot-tall Oumar Ballo came off the bench to add 13 points, 10 rebounds.
ASU’s post players had problems just trying to defend the bigger, more physical Wildcats. Enoch Boakye, a true 6-foot-10 freshman, fouled out with 7:30 left and Arizona ahead 70-55 with 6-9 junior Jalen Graham following at 4:51 and ASU down 84-63 .
“Zu (Tubelis) is a top player,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “There are advantages to every lineup. You can have two big in there, we have our big lineup, our normal big lineup, and then our small lineup. We can go in and out throughout the game. When you having two big guys on the ground, towering over the paint, is a real weapon.”
Not only did Arizona’s size pay off offensively, but it also factored in defense. Graham, who has been phenomenal the past three weeks, was just 4 of 13 from the field for eight points and managed just four rebounds after scoring in double figures in five of the last six outings.
ASU shot 42.3 percent (30 for 71), which was slightly above its season average. The Sun Devils hit a respectable 13 of 30 from long range, many of which come early. Guards Jay Heath and Marreon Jackson each totaled 16, with Jackson’s total propelling him above the 2,000-point plateau for his college career, which began in Toledo. Jackson also had eight assists and four steals.
ASU had 32 points on Arizona’s 20 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough for the advantage.
“They go with those high bottoms. They’re good at finding a way to really get down and wide bodies. Tubelis definitely looks a lot better than our first game. He moves better. They have a lot of ways to beat you It’s rare for a team to have that quality of an inside game that can go attacking on half-court while also being very deadly on open ground also in transition with the athleticism of their wings.
ASU had some success from the outside early, jumping to a 16-3 lead, hitting four of the first five 3-pointers they attempted. But the Wildcats fought back, tying for the first time at 19 and taking a 40-36 advantage in the locker room at halftime.
The Sun Devils struggled mightily after that, with Arizona recording 19 of the first 23 points and going up 59-40 on a quick layup from Dalen Terry with 15:04 to go. The home team was no longer within striking distance.
“It really depended on how we played the first four minutes of the second half. It wasn’t what you need in a game like this and we didn’t do that against UCLA. We just didn’t have great possessions in attack Damn I told the guys on the first media (time out) I don’t think we had a single save They scored different each time manners.
Both teams will hit the road later this week to take on the Washington Schools. ASU will be at Washington (12-9, 7-4) on Thursday with Arizona at Washington State (14-7, 7-3). They will overthrow their opponents on Saturday.
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