ASU unable to contain Deandre Ayton in another close loss to rival Wildcats
TEMPE, Ariz. – Again, close. But close is still an Arizona State loss, and Bobby Hurley is still without a win against the Sun Devils’ biggest rival.
Despite 20 points from Tra Holder and 19 from Kodi Justice, No. 25 ASU was unable to hold-off 17th-ranked Arizona, which completed the season-series sweep with a 77-70 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,233 at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday.
The Sun Devils lost both meetings by single digits.
“If you had told me coming in here that Kodi had the game that he had and that we won the paint 40-to-30, I figured I come here with a big smile on my face. But that’s not the case,” said Hurley, who dropped to 0-6 facing the Wildcats.
Hurley pointed to the free throw disparity, UA made 21-of-27 compared to ASU’s 7-of-12, and the Wildcats’ size advantage which accounted for a 44-28 edge in rebounding, including 14 on the offensive end.
Deandre Ayton accounted for eight of those offensive rebounds, seven in the second half alone or one more than the Sun Devils grabbed as a team over the final 20 minutes of the game.
Ayton finished with 25 points (on 8-of-12 shooting from the field plus 9-of-12 shooting from the foul line) and 16 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season and second in as many meetings with ASU.
“I mean he’s 7-(foot)-1. He can see over anyone,” Justice said. “We’re trapping with somebody who is 6-(foot)-5, 6-(foot)-4 so he gets to see right over us. It’s not that difficult when you’re 7-(foot)-1.”
Added Hurley about Ayton, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the second half, “After competing against him twice, he may be the best big that I’ve seen in college as a player and as a coach in terms of his future and his upside and he’s just scratching the surface of what he’ll be. It’s hard to imagine what he’ll be.”
ASU used a 31-6 run spanning the first and second halves to take a seven-point lead, 46-39, just three minutes into the second half.
UA (21-6, 11-3) then responded with its own 17-6 surge and never trailed again.
The game was tied at 63 — on a Justice layup with 3:48 remaining — but the Wildcats scored seven straight, four by Ayton, to pull away.
“We competed, but we got to find ways to not dig ourselves holes so early,” Justice said.
It was not a good start for the Sun Devils.
Nine minutes into the game they trailed by 17, 28-11.
Allonzo Trier had seven points and three assists, while Ayton (six), Dusan Ristic (six) and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (five) all helped contribute to the Wildcats’ 10-of-12 shooting, including making four of six from 3-point range.
“(That was) as good as I’ve seen them this year or as good as an opponent has played against us,” Hurley said.
The deficit would grow to 18, 33-15, before the Sun Devils finally started playing like the Sun Devils.
At the 7:14 mark, Justice converted a 3-point play. They were his first points of the game and the first of nine straight scored by the Mesa High product, as he followed up with back-to-back 3s.
It jumpstarted a 16-2 run that led to a 23-6 close putting ASU within one at halftime, 39-38.
“It was amazing that we actually had a shot going into halftime to take the lead after everything that went on early in that game,” Hurley said.
The loss ended the Sun Devils’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 7-7 in the Pac-12 and 19-7 overall.
“I feel like we emptied the tank, though. We really did,” Hurley said. “That was an entertaining game to watch. I thought it was a high-level game at times. I think both teams competed really hard. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
— ASU pulled out all the stops for this highly anticipated matchup.
Famed ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced the Sun Devils’ starting lineup and then belted out his trademarked catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” to charge up the fans ahead of tip-off.
— Among those in attendance were former Sun Devils Sal Bando (baseball), Jason Kipnis (baseball) and Ryan Bader (wrestling); the latter of whom participated in the Curtain of Distraction.
— Two Final Four officials worked the game: Randy McCall and Tony Padilla. Plus, Pac-12 Director of Officials Bobby Dibler was in attendance.