No. 17 Arizona State (9-2) opened Pac-12 play on Sunday night with a tough loss down South at Arizona (11-1).
The Wildcats, who were riding high on a nine-game non-conference winning streak heading into the matchup, flustered the Sun Devils all night in front of a crowd of 5,006 people at the McKale Center.
Some questions surrounded Arizona’s strength of schedule and its non-conference slate, which included games against no ranked opponents, but the Wildcats were able to answer those question marks with a statement win on their home court.
Leading the way was Arizona redshirt sophomore guard Aari McDonald, who racked up 24 points on 9-17 shooting. McDonald continued to attack the paint, and she continued to be a thorn in the side of the ASU defense all night long.
On the opposite side of the floor, the Wildcats also turned up the dial on the defensive end, where they held ASU to 23 percent shooting on the night. The relentless pressure and team defense would ultimately be the difference for Arizona, and the Sun Devils weren’t able to have an answer.
ASU senior forward Kianna Ibis also had some early foul trouble, and that added some more gas to the fire for the Devils. Trailing by seven coming out of the locker room in the second half, Ibis returned to the floor. She ended up being the only Sun Devil in double-figures with 11 points on the night.
If there was one positive for ASU, it was the team’s ability to rebound. The Devils out rebounded Arizona 17-3 on the offensive glass, creating second opportunities, but the lid seemed to remain on the basket even with the extended possessions.
ASU trailed by seven at the half, and despite a sour loss in a Territorial Cup matchup, the Devils remained close despite a struggling offense. They continued to hack away and cut into the Arizona lead, but every time, it seemed like Arizona had an answer.
Sunday’s game might sting a little bit more for Sun Devil fans because of the Territorial Cup implications. Additionally, the numbers speak for themselves. ASU was 4-23 from three-point range, and they were 13-56 on field goals. It was a tough night at the office against a suffocating Wildcat defensive unit.
It was one of those games where even open shots that the Devils had, they didn’t seem to fall. Aside from Ibis, it seemed there was no secondary scoring option, and Arizona made ASU battle for every inch on the floor.
Nonetheless, Sunday was a tough way to start conference play, and it once again went to show that anybody can beat any team in an elite Pac-12 Conference for women's basketball. Arizona is young and improved from last season, and the Devils seemed to feel the aftermath of the program’s growth.
However, it’s still early, and a loss in late December might not mean much come late February and early March. Only time, and more rigorous games ahead will tell.
Up next, ASU will stay on the road to take on Utah on Jan. 4 before heading to Boulder to take on Colorado on Jan. 6.