PHOENIX – What happens when a team that is used to dominating a series loses six of seven contests?
Saturday the Arizona Wildcats will host the Arizona State Sun Devils and, while the Cats are sitting pretty at 14-3, the Devils are just 9-7. Don’t expect Sean Miller’s team to underestimate the visitors.
“It’s important really on two wavelengths,” Miller said of the game. “One, it’s our rival, I know our fans and our school – this is a big game for us, this is a big game for them.”
Miller said you want to have success in the rivalry, especially at home, but in the grand scheme it’s important as a conference game.
Also important is the chance for a pair of teams who still don’t exactly know who they are to make a statement early in Pac-10 play.
The Sun Devils, after all, come in with a 1-3 conference record, beating Oregon but losing at Oregon State and in Tempe against Stanford and California. They average 62.6 points per game while shooting 42.1 percent from the line.
While the Wildcats enter the game averaging 77.5 points per game while shooting 48.8 percent from the field, if history is any indication the home team may find it difficult to put the ball in the basket.
In nine games against Herb Sendek-coached squads Arizona has been held to just 62.4 points per game. Prior success will not leave the ASU coach confident, however.
“I think they’re one of the best teams in the country, hands down,” he said of the Wildcats.
Of course Sendek specifically mentioned UA sophomore Derrick Williams, who comes into the game averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Efficient as he is effective, the forward is the key to the Wildcats’ attack.
“He literally can dominate a game,” Sendek said. “The numbers he’s posted are staggering.”
In two games against the Sun Devils Williams has scored 20 and 15, respectively, and while he may draw ASU’s attention on defense one guy the Wildcats should keep a close eye on is Ty Abbott.
Abbott, you may remember, lit up Arizona for 28 points the last time the teams played in Tucson. Along with Abbott, Miller noted, was a supporting cast that is starting to get healthy. Miller said that helps make ASU dangerous.
“What really stands out when you look at the career leaders in three-point field goals made and you see that [Rihards] Kuksiks and Abbott are one and two,” Miller said, “and you think of the big games, the success that both of those two guys have had at McKale.”
Miller noted ASU’s match-up zone defense which has given Arizona trouble. However, he said the experience gained from facing it twice last year will help his team this time around.
“But that’s not just the story, playing against Arizona State,” he said. “It’s also about being able to stop them on offense.”