Arizona State, Arizona follow rivalry game with trips to Colorado, Utah
One of the most anticipated basketball games in Arizona this decade has come and gone.
So, now what?
Well, for No. 4 Arizona State and No. 14 Arizona, it’s time to really begin Pac-12 play. The two follow the 84-78 Wildcats win in Tucson by heading to Colorado and Utah.
The Sun Devils will take on the Buffaloes on Thursday and the Utes Sunday while Arizona draws the reverse of Utah on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday.
It’s a trip, in particular, that has been a major thorn in the side of Arizona State. Since 2012, the team is 1-9 in the two-game road trip.
In a conference that has not met preseason expectations, the 10-3 Utes made a statement in their first two games, going on the road to both Oregon schools and coming up with wins.
That, of course, doesn’t compare to facing two top-15 schools, which makes the two Arizona schools far and away the most challenging duo of teams to face this season in the Pac-12.
“They have balanced scoring,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said of Utah Tuesday.
It’s quite the feat for a team that heavily relied on Kyle Kuzma last year, as his NBA career has been off to a tremendous start with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Seniors David Collette and Justin Bibbins jump out for Utah.
“I think he’s one of the best low-post scorers we’ll face all year,” Miller said of Collette, who is averaging 13.2 points and 5.0 rebounds a game.
The 6-foot-10 senior has been consistently efficient in his career, shooting 59 percent at Utah State his sophomore season, 60 percent in his debut season with Utah last season and posting 59 percent this season.
Bibbins, a transfer from Long Beach State, has been the scoring punch the team needs without Kuzma. He has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games, including scoring 18-plus in both games in the Pacific Northwest.
“A big, big addition to their team,” Miller said, who has faced him in the past. “He gives them kind of that engine that runs the team. He makes the game easier for his teammates.”
Bibbins is having a sensational start to the season. After having his career-high in field goal percentage be at 44 percent from his sophomore season, he’s shooting 51 percent from the field and an outstanding 49 percent from 3-point range on 5.2 attempts a game.
Known for his quickness and defensive resiliency, Miller noted the added bonus of his shooting.
“A lot of times those (types of) guys don’t shoot the ball that well,” he said. “He gives them a little bit of everything.”
The 8-5 Buffaloes didn’t do so well on the Oregon trip. They lost by 19 points to Oregon State and by 15 to the Ducks.
“They’re gonna give us their best shot tomorrow, not only because they’re at home and they need it but our ranking and our season has given teams more of a reason to give us their best shot so we got to be ready for that,” Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley said on Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Wednesday.
Colorado is another Pac-12 team recovering from the loss of a premier talent. Derrick White’s 18 points, four rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal a game on 51 percent shooting are no longer with Colorado after he was selected in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.
Colorado has shooters, with all five of its leading scorers attempting at least three 3-pointers a game. While versatility and spacing is nice, the problem is, the Buffaloes aren’t hitting those shots, shooting 32.6 percent as a team.
The best shooter is leading scorer McKinley Wright IV, putting up a 35.4 percent number from deep to go along with his 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
The freshman, who Hurley called one of the better freshmen in the conference, has far exceeded a three-star rank on 247 Sports that had him rank as the 44th point guard in his class. He was originally committed to Dayton to play for Archie Miller before Miller took the job at Indiana.
Arizona State’s matchup in Boulder can be heard Thursday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station at 6:30 p.m. while the Sun Devils’ following game against the Utes will be at 6 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM Sunday.