Arizona State and Arizona are teams heading in very different directions this basketball season.
No. 7 Arizona comes in with a 26-4 record and has a chance to clinch first place in the Pac-12 with a win. ASU, however, is 14-16 and has no chance to make the tournament unless they win the Pac-12 Tournament.
But those records could be irrelevant when these teams play in their latest Territorial Cup installment on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena at 2 p.m.
One man who’s played in a few of these rivalry games is former ASU basketball player and current color analyst Kyle Dodd, who joined Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Friday and had some thoughts on his alma mater heading into the game.
“At this point in the season they’re playing six, seven guys on most nights,” Dodd said. “They’ve truly taken on the identity of their coach Bobby Hurley and the way the fight and scrap and claw. They’re extremely undersized and very thin in the front court. That being said, they are finding ways to stay in basketball games. It’ll be a battle.”
Injuries, transfers, inexperience and 4-star recruit Romello White sitting out due to NCAA ineligibility have forced ASU to only play with a limited rotation on a nightly basis.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, scrapping and clawing only gets a team so far. When these teams first played in Tucson on Jan. 12, Arizona had no trouble with ASU, cruising to a 91-75 win.
“I think U of A’s size obviously presents a real challenge like it did in Tucson,” Dodd said. “I think the Devils are going to have to make some shots and knock down some threes to stay in the game.”
The Wildcats have three effective big men in Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche, and likely lottery pick Lauri Markkanen. That trio dominated the Sun Devils when they last played, combining for 55 points on 22-of-31 shooting. Arizona also out-rebounded ASU 38-22 in that game.
Whereas the Wildcats can beat opponents down low, the Sun Devils rely more on their guard play to win by playing four guards with 6-foot-7 Obinna Oleka as their tallest player in their starting lineup.
The Sun Devils are a good offensive team, averaging 79.3 points per game. Moreover, guards Torian Graham and Tra Holder are two of the top five scorers in the Pac-12. ASU, however, is challenged defensively and struggles to score if threes aren’t falling.
Unlike ASU, the Wildcats are much more complete. Along with their talented big men, Arizona boasts a solid group of guards like Allonzo Trier, Kobi Simmons and senior Kadeem Allen.
With such a talented roster and an experienced head coach in Sean Miller, the Wildcats have more aspirations than beating ASU.
“U of A does a little bit of everything. I think the challenge for them offensively is they go through (bad) stretches,” Dodd said. “They’re so physical, they have size, they have athletes on the wing. If they’re a team that can put it all together they can go on a run.”
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