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Arizona rolls into ASU with role player Dylan Smith hitting stride

Arizona guard Dylan Smith (3) drives past Colorado forward Lucas Siewert during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona won 75-54. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Arizona State’s Rob Edwards appears to have shot himself back into a rhythm. It’s one reason the Sun Devils can feel good as they enter a Saturday hosting of the Arizona Wildcats at Desert Financial Arena.

One of Arizona’s key role players happens to be hitting his stride, too.

The No. 22 Wildcats (13-5) swept Colorado and Utah last weekend behind two strong games from starting senior guard Dylan Smith.

It’s become clear to Arizona head coach Sean Miller that his team goes as Smith does. And knowing that, the Wildcats are asking for a little more consistency — or at least higher lows when Smith doesn’t have it going.

“He doesn’t have to score 26 points and make six threes for us to say, ‘Hey you played well,'” Miller told reporters on Thursday. “I thought his play over the weekend was a big reason our team played well.”

Smith averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, canning 5 of 11 shots from three-point range in that stretch.

He has started every game for Arizona this season alongside the standout freshman trio of point guard Nico Mannion, wing Josh Green and big man Zeke Nnaji.  Smith’s 43% accuracy from deep has greatly helped one of Miller’s best shooting squads since the coach arrived in Tucson.

His defense has stood out, too. Over the past few games, the thin 6-foot-5 guard has flashed that intensity while also making strong decisions, taking the right shots and only turning it over once in the past two games.

To Miller, the challenge for Smith has been in translating solid and consistent practices to games.

“Taking care of the ball, when he’s solid in that area, that’s a big deal,” the head coach said. “I think if he’s not our overall best defender, he’s one of two. Him not fouling and being locked in — he did a really good job, again, this past weekend, defensively.

“When he’s solid, it becomes contagious. It helps other people be solid on defense. When you talk about experience, there’s nobody on our team who’s more experienced than Dylan, whether that’s here at Arizona or the fact that he’s in his fifth year. We want him to be solid.”

Saturday, after a 7:30 p.m. tip that will be broadcasted on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, Smith just might find himself matched up at times with Edwards, who is coming off a 24-point outburst in ASU’s drubbing of Utah.

The Sun Devils (11-7) had been searching for perimeter scoring help for Remy Martin, the point guard who Miller called the heart and soul of the team.

Like Smith, Edwards is a transfer who in his senior year appears to be finally settling in as a predictive piece of the team. ASU has a good shot of winning if he’s playing well.

“We have a lot of respect for him. He had a really good season a year ago, and I think in both games impacted our game,” Miller said of the 6-foot-5 gunner who is shooting 37% from the field and from three-point range.

“He’s a tremendous shooter and he’s bigger. He’s more of a wing player than a guard. He’s got size and in transition he can really make shots. When he’s playing with confidence, adding to their scoring punch, I think he’s a real difference-maker on their team. I think they’re really trying to get him more good looks in their halfcourt offense.”