ASU Basketball: Early deficit drains Devils late vs. Arizona

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 15: Kimani Lawrence
TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 15: Kimani Lawrence /

ASU basketball was swept in its season series against Arizona following a 77-70 loss to the Wildcats. The result drops ASU back to .500 (7-7) in the Pac-12.

‘Classic’ college basketball games are often defined by a game-winning shot or memorable play. What is often overlooked is the build up leading to the aforementioned play.

While the second matchup between Arizona and Arizona State was not settled in nail-biting fashion, the game could be considered a classic with both teams showing resiliency and grit as the next chapter of the in-state rivalry continued to take shape.

With 7:33 remaining in the first half, it appeared the Wildcats were going to rout the Sun Devils. They were shooting 73 percent from the field after guard Allonzo Trier converted a step back three over Shannon Evans to put Arizona ahead by 18, silencing the sellout crowd of 14,233 in the process.

But Arizona State remained composed, just as it has under pressure throughout the season.

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Beginning with a 9-0 run from guard Kodi Justice, the Sun Devils clawed their way back, cutting the deficit to one as part of a 23-6 run to close the half. Justice finished with 19 points.

“We competed, but we’ve got to find ways to not dig ourselves holes so early,” Justice said.

The momentum shift didn’t stop there. ASU sustained its energy, continued to surge in the second half and led by seven just a few minutes in.

With the two schools experiencing a complete role reversal, it was now Arizona pinned against the wall. As an 18-point lead quickly evaporated into a seven-point hole, head coach Sean Miller turned to Deandre Ayton with the game slipping away.

The heralded freshman did not disappoint.

Ayton posted 17 points and 14 rebounds… in the second half, as part of a 25-point, 16-rebound effort. His physicality and size proved too much for ASU as forwards Romello White, De’Quon Lake and Mickey Mitchell all got into foul trouble trying to contain Ayton.

“None of my walk-ons could do that,” head coach Bobby Hurley joked when asked about simulating Ayton in practice.

Hurley continued, “After competing against him twice, he may the best big that I’ve seen in college as a player and as a coach.”

With the game tied at 63, the Sun Devils offense fell flat as Arizona outscored ASU 14-7 over the final 3:48 to improve to 11-3 in conference play. The Sun Devils dropped to 7-7 with a road trip in Oregon on the horizon.

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“If you’d have told me that, coming in here, Kodi had the game that he had and that we won the paint 40 to 30, I figured I’d come in here with a big smile on my face,” Hurley said.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.