In most competitive pursuits, including sports, a myriad of unique factors bear on the final outcome. This was the case on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, where the visiting Arizona Wildcats (16-1, 4-1) mastered the finer points of college hoops to beat Arizona State (14-4, 3-2).
The battle between Arizona’s in-state rivals came down to skill, preparation and execution — areas where the Wildcats excelled and the Sun Devils came up short. The result was a 71-54 defeat for ASU on its home court.
ASU senior guard Chris Colvin was suspended for the third time in less than two seasons for rules violations. Colvin was averaging 19.6 minutes coming into the contest. Without him, the Sun Devils had to lean heavily on talented freshman point guard Jahii Carson to carry the load.
Carson tried to do it all for his shorthanded team, but ended up with four fouls with 9:50 remaining in game. As a result, he could no longer shut down Arizona guard Mark Lyons, who took full advantage of the situation on offense.
Junior center Jordan Bachynski is one of the best shot-blockers in the Pac-12 conference, but against Arizona he was less effective than usual under the basket. Offensively, Bachynski was limited to three points and six rebounds.
ASU senior wingman Carrick Felix had his worst game of the season, finishing with just five points and seven turnovers. Seven of the eight shots he attempted came from 3-point range, and he made only one of them. A standout for coach Herb Sendek’s squad, Felix normally averages 15.1 points per outing.
Jonathan Gilling, the team’s sharp-shooting sophomore power forward, made just two field goals on the day.
As a team, the Sun Devils were guilty of 17 turnovers — providing opportunities for 18 Arizona points. The Wildcats, in turn, shot 56 percent in the second half. Ten of their 14 second-half field goals came at the rim.
ASU seemed tentative from the start against Arizona and lacked its normal aggressiveness in the paint. Due to poor shooting by Felix, Gilling and Bachynski, Carson was pressed by the Wildcats’ defense and no one was able to pick up the slack.
“I don’t think we played to the best of our capabilities,” Carson said. “Normally, we come out and set the tempo, we throw the first punch, and I think they did that. I think they wanted it more than us.”
Apart from ASU’s personnel issues and inconsistent play, Arizona showed why they came into the game ranked the No. 7 team in the country. The Wildcats were efficient at both ends of the floor, hitting 14 of 25 shots in the second half and stymieing the Sun Devils defensively. Senior point guard Mark Lyons accounted for 24 points, three steals and three assists; senior forward Solomon Hill posted 13 points, six rebounds and five assists: and sophomore guard Nick Johnson provided an additional 19 points.
In the end, Saturday’s contest came down to size and talent. Arizona has both qualities in spades — boasting one of the nation’s most talented recruiting classes — while ASU remains a work in progress.
Arizona Coach Sean Miller summed up the disparity between the two teams in his post-game comments: “You look inside, and I thought when Arizona State really tried to go inside that we had a bigger player in there,” Miller said. “Our size negated some of the inside shots that they got. “