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ASU Basketball: Second half explosion fuels 72-58 victory for Kentucky

Arizona State gave the top-five Wildcats all they could handle for 20 minutes on Saturday before eventually falling.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

When Arizona State Sun Devils point guard Kodi Justice buried a 3-pointer to close an up and down first half at Rupp Arena, it was impossible not to think about a possible upset that might be brewing.

The Justice triple pulled ASU to within 32-31 at the half, shaking off a cold shooting start to give the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats a bit of a scare as both teams regrouped in the locker rooms.

That 3-pointer, however, would be just what Kentucky needed to wake up on Saturday afternoon.

The Wildcats (9-1) came out in the final 20 minutes with a newfound identity and game plan, forcing the issue against an overmatched Arizona State offense. The result was a 72-58 win, sending Bobby Hurley's team (6-3) home with their impressive winning streak snapped at three.

Kentucky shot 43.6 percent from the field and forced 17 turnovers in the victory. This was the team's 27 consecutive victory at Rupp Arena.

The game shifted when the Wildcats exploded for a 14-5 run early in the second half. That gave John Calipari's team a 56-43 advantage with just 10 and a half minutes remaining, a deficit that seemed insurmountable with offense being hard to come by.

Struggling to execute their offense all afternoon, the Sun Devils shooting woes and lackadaisical ball-handling efforts finally caught up to them as the home team put this one on ice early. Guard Tra Holder rebounded from a frustrating start to score 15 points, but he was really the team's only scoring threat in the second half.

Shooting guard Jamal Murray sparked Kentucky's scoring effort for the afternoon. The freshman scored 17 points and also tallied five assists in the winning effort. Three other Wildcats finished in double figures.

This one started out as a defensive struggle, with missed three-pointers and foul troubles being the main story of the first half. Kentucky jumped out to a 21-14 lead at one point, but a quick 5-1 binge out of a timeout got the Sun Devils right back in it.

In the closing minutes of the first stanza, it looked as if Kentucky could pull away at a number of different points if a few different three-pointers had fallen. The Wildcats never did, however, and instead it was Justice that hit the big shot to pull his team within one at the break.

As it would turn out, the 23,000-plus fans in attendance wouldn't have to wait long to see those dagger threes go down. The Wildcats made five of them in the final 16 minutes of the contest.

While the final result wasn't a good one, ASU proved it can play with nearly anyone in the country for at least 20 minutes. There are definitely a few positives to take away from this one as the team settles into the latter-portion of its nonconference slate.

Up next is a trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday, as Arizona State will take on the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in yet another challenging game. Tipoff is set for 8:00 p.m. (MT) on CBSSN.