This afternoon, Arizona State men’s basketball visits the not-so-friendly confines of McKale Center in Tucson for a regular season-ending showdown with rival Arizona. If this game is anything like previous matchups, fans can expect a mixture of bad blood and bruising basketball.
ASU (20-10, 9-8) is seeking to avenge a 71-54 pounding by Arizona (23-6, 11-6) on Jan. 19 in Tempe, and doing so, regain some momentum going into the Pac-12 Tournament.
The No. 18 Wildcats, on the other hand, hope to rebound from a disappointing 74-69 loss to UCLA on Mar. 2 and return to the good graces of the national pollsters.
Because Arizona normally is favored whenever these two teams meet, it’s easy to forget that the Sun Devils are 5-5 against their foes from Tucson over the last four years. It’s also interesting to note that ASU has come back to win after being down at half against Arizona five times since 2007.
Despite a strong effort by point guard Jahii Carson, Arizona State fell 57-56 to USC last Saturday. Carson had 23 points and seven rebounds against the Trojans, and leads ASU hoops in scoring (17.8 per game) and assists (5.0 per game) on the season. He is ranked 33rd nationally in points and 46th nationally in assists.
Arizona, meanwhile, features one of the most versatile players in the nation, senior forward Solomon Hill; and one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, sophomore guard Nick Johnson. In addition, the Wildcats rely heavily on senior point guard Mark Lyons for a spark on offense.
From an ASU fan perspective, today’s game could hinge on the play of two key Sun Devil starters: wing Carrick Felix and center Jordan Bachynski. Felix had an off-day against USC, but was just named by ESPN’s Jason King as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Season. The senior standout currently leads the Pac-12 with 12 double-doubles and ranks seventh in rebounding (8.4 rpg), sixth in steals (1.6 spg) and is tied for 10th in blocked shots (1.1 bpg). Bachynski has been an enigma of late, combining strong performances as in the Jan. 26 win against UCLA (22 points and 15 rebounds) with a number of quiet outings. Regardless, he’s ranked third nationally in blocks (110).
For Arizona, it’s all about stopping Jahii. ASU battled hard during the early stages of the Jan. 19 contest at Wells Fargo Arena, but the Wildcats forced Carson into late foul trouble. When the dynamic freshman picked up his fourth foul, it was curtains for the Sun Devils.