Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton may be understated, but he is hardly not noticeable.
Arizona’s 7-foot-1 phenom was back at his best on Saturday night, scoring 23 points and pulling down 19 rebounds in the Wildcats’ 84-78 win over No. 3 Arizona State in the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
“Coach (Sean Miller) broke it down to us that you don’t get excited and that we should play like this every game,” said Ayton, who numbers were good enough for his 10th double-double of the season. “Everything we did earlier in the season you can just scratch that out. We’re just on a roll right now. We’ve just gotta get better and do what we gotta do to get wins.”
His 19 rebounds were a career high.
“Deandre has a great attitude and is fun to coach,” Miller said. “He’s an unbelievable teammate. He rises to the challenge; big games bring out the best in him. He was ready for tonight’s game — thank goodness. We needed that type of effort. When we won the game, it was because of his dominance close to the basket.”
It was Arizona State’s first loss of the season. The Sun Devils (12-1) were the last undefeated college team left — Villanova and Texas Christian lost earlier in the day. It was Arizona State’s best start in school history.
It’s the first time since 1994-95 each team was ranked in the matchup.
Arizona (11-3), behind Ayton and junior guard Allonzo Trier, was able to hold off a pesky and aggressive Arizona State behind Tra Holder, who scored 31 points, 19 in the second half.
Trier had 23 points, 18 in the second half.
“Allonzo and Deandre, their performance was spectacular,” Miller said.
Twice Arizona led by 12 points in the second half, but Holder all but willed Arizona State to stay close. He hit a 3-pointer with 2:17 to make it 76-73.
Trier followed with a basket only to see Kodi Justice hit a 3-pointer after a turnover. Arizona then called a timeout with a 78-76 lead with 1:12 left.
“They have the ability to score quickly,” Miller said. “They can change the game in single plays, but they string, three, four, five plays together and are dynamic in transition.”
Ayton tipped in a missed shot by Trier to give Arizona an 80-76 lead with 11 seconds left.
“Late in the game, I felt like (Ayton) was in the paint and he was in there forever,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “When you give a guy a chance to stay in the paint that long, they’re going to eventually find him and throw him the ball. He’s a pretty big target.”
But Holder was fouled driving to the basket on the next possession. He hit two free throws to make it 80-78.
“I haven’t seen a guard become as good at getting fouled as Tra Holder,” said Miller, who witnessed Holder hit 15 of 16 free throws. “Some teams don’t shoot 16 free throws against us. He’s just so explosive. He’s a monster.”
Trier was fouled with 10.3 seconds left. He hit both free throws to make it 82-78. On Arizona State’s next possession missed a 3-pointer to all but end the game.
Arizona opened the second half with a 10-4 run as Arizona State went 1 of 9 to start the half.
Arizona also took advantage of its large size advantage behind Ayton and Dusan Ristic as they grabbed rebounds and gave Arizona second-chance opportunities.
Ayton continued to run with a strong dunk and a free throw to make it 52-41 with just more than 15 minutes left.
Arizona State’s Shannon Evans didn’t help his team’s cause when he was assessed a technical foul with 12:28 left. Trier hit both free throws to make it 58-48.
Ristic followed with a dunk to give Arizona its largest lead of the game — 62-50 — with 10:53 left.
Behind Holder’s nine points, Arizona State went on a 11-2 to inch closer at 64-63 with 7:52 left.
Trier hit a 3-pointer to give Arizona some breathing room to make it 69-63 with 6:14 left. And Ayton followed with another basket to make it 71-63.
Arizona State’s Romello White fouled out with Arizona leading 73-64 with 4:50 left. Arizona continued to get the ball to Ayton, who again gave the Wildcats a double-digit lead at 76-64.
“We are just going to regroup,” Hurley said. “This is a marathon. It’s fun to be in these games; you live for these games. It was such a hard-fought game. Both teams battling (and) both wanted to win really gad. It was a lot of fun.”
The pace was just as fast and loose in the first half as it was in the second half.
NOTES: Arizona State and Stanford (2000-01) have been the only Pac-12 teams to start 12-0 and have won 11 games by double digits since 1996-97. ... De’Quion Lake entered the game shooting 74.1 percent (40 of 54). He went 3 of 4 on Saturday. ... Sean Miller is 8-1 at home vs. Arizona State. ... Allonzo Trier’s 23 points made him the 56th Arizona player to reach 1,000 points in a career. He’s averaged 17 points in that time. He’d be the eighth Arizona player to do so under Miller ... Arizona is 131-13 at McKale Center under Miller.