The early battle for supremacy in the Pac-12 takes place Saturday in Tucson as No. 4 Arizona State visits 18th-ranked Arizona in the conference opener for both teams. One of three remaining unbeaten teams in Division 1, the high-scoring Sun Devils have relied on their explosive backcourt to become the most surprising story in college basketball.
Picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason poll, Arizona State ranks sixth in the country at 91.8 points per game and boasts an impressive resume with wins over Kansas State, Xavier and Kansas. “They’re not 12-0 because they’re lucky,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told reporters. “They’ve beaten good teams on the road. They’ve held serve at home and they’ve represented our conference incredibly well. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they’re right there as a No. 1 seed.” The Sun Devils’ four-guard lineup of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and Remy Martin will be tested by a dynamic Arizona squad that has won seven in a row following a three-game losing streak in the Bahamas. The Wildcats might possess the best roster in college basketball, led by 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton, versatile wing Allonzo Trier and guard Rawle Alkins, who has made an instant impact after missing the first nine games with a foot injury.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT ARIZONA STATE (12-0): Holder is averaging 21.3 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 45.1 percent from 3-point range for the Sun Devils, who closed nonconference play with a 104-65 win over Pacific on Dec. 22 and have beaten 11 of 12 opponents by double digits. Evans, Holder and Justice rank in the top four in the Pac-12 in made 3-pointers, and the Sun Devils are shooting 39.9 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks second in the conference. Coach Bobby Hurley’s team lacks the size to contend with Arizona’s big men, but 6-foot-9 center De’Quon Lake had seven blocks against Pacific and could be a key factor on Saturday.
ABOUT ARIZONA (10-3): The Wildcats’ offense starts with Ayton, who has averaged 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds and shown why he’ll likely be a top-3 pick in next year’s NBA draft. If Arizona State double-teams the athletic center, look for more scoring opportunities for Alkins (16.0 points per game) and Trier, who is averaging a team-high 21.2 points on 56.2 percent shooting. Focusing on Ayton could also create scoring chances for 7-foot senior Dusan Ristic, who is shooting 58.1 percent and recorded a double-double in a 73-58 win over Connecticut on Dec. 21.
1. Arizona State has lost seven in a row in Tucson dating back to 2010, all by double figures.
2. Arizona and Arizona State are meeting as ranked teams for the first time since 1995.
3. Arizona is 130-13 under Miller at the McKale Center.
PREDICTION: Arizona 93, Arizona State 87