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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils worn down by No. 8 Wildcats, fall 94-82

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Despite a spirited comeback, Arizona State dropped its Pac-12 opener on Sunday to archrival Arizona.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The intensity was certainly there.

A crowd of more than 8,000 turned out on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena for the hardwood version of the Territorial Cup, and they were treated to 40 minutes of fast-paced, emotional basketball.

Unfortunately for the Arizona State Sun Devils, it takes more than intensity to beat the No. 8 team in the country.

The visiting Arizona Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 Pac-12) outshot and outrebounded Arizona State (10-4, 0-1 Pac-12) in this Pac-12 opener, opening up a lead as big as 16 before eventually salting away a 94-82 victory at the free throw line.

"We knew that they would present challenges for us with their size and ability to score inside," said head coach Bobby Hurley. "(Give them) a lot of credit for the way they played."

A starting lineup that is touted as one of the best in the country proved their worth in this one. All five starters ended the game in double figures, with shooting guard Gabe York leading the way with 22 points.

Sun Devil point guard Tra Holder actually led all scorers with 24 points, the majority of which came late in the second half as he tried to will his team back into the game. JC transfer Obinna Oleka added 17 off the bench for the maroon and gold, which was the forward's second best output of the season.

"He is playing with confidence and making strides," Hurley said when asked about Oleka. "It is really nice from where he came from early in the season to be in the game with a lot on the line in league play."

Oleka's day started with a personal 8-0 run that included two banked-in jumpers to give Arizona State a 24-17 lead, the first time either team managed to seize control. That was just the start of a 12-2 binge that saw the Sun Devils take a nine-point lead with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

Sure enough, however, the Wildcats would settle in and battle back. A six minute scoreless stretch allowed the visitors to grab a 33-28 lead, finally stopping when Gerry Blakes forced a turnover and dunked the ball at the other end.

"I thought we had some great energy, particularly on defense," said Hurley. "But then we kind of forgot what got us to that point and allowed them to climb back in the game."

It looked as if Arizona might pull away late in the first half, but an old-fashioned three point play from Holder trimmed the deficit to 41-35 and kept the team in good spirits as they headed to the locker rooms.

Arizona State took the momentum from the strong finish and came out hot in the second half, but the Wildcats matched every hit that came their way. But when Hurley's team hit another cold streak on the offensive end of the floor, Arizona kept firing, and scoring, to take firm control of the contest.

A 13-4 run — one that included a trio of three-pointers from York — made the score 66-53 with just eight minutes to play. Arizona's lead grew to as many as 16 on two separate occasions, but a resilient Sun Devil team continued to fight.

Holder knocked down a pair of free throws to make the score 83-77 with 1:15 remaining, and Savon Goodman was whistled for a controversial foul call on the ensuing inbounds play.

The call did not please Hurley, who finally picked up a technical from an officiating crew that was on the verge of giving him one all afternoon.

"I don't know," Hurley said when asked about the foul. "I am just puzzled."

His problems with the referees didn't end there. The next Wildcat possession also resulted in a bang-bang foul call, and Hurley promptly picked up another technical — and ejection — in protest.

"I really wouldn't have changed anything I did today," said Hurley. "That is as far as I am going to comment on anything about that."

York made all four of the free throws that were granted due to the common and technical fouls, making the score 89-79 and all but ending the game in the process.

"We appreciate him fighting for us," Blakes said when asked about Hurley. "Ultimately, that intensity rubs off on us."

The final score ended up being 94-82, handing the maroon and gold a loss in their conference opener for a third straight season.

Next up is a trip to Los Angeles, with Arizona State facing off against the USC Trojans on Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. (MT) and the game will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.