The 17-ranked Arizona Wildcats, (20-6, 10-3), travel to “The Bank” where No. 25 Arizona State, (19-6, 7-6), will look to avenge their Pac-12 opening loss, this time on its home court in Tempe on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
A lot has changed for both teams since that December 30th matchup. Here are five things to know about the Wildcats before tip-off:
Top team in Pac-12
On top of all the mediocrity in Pac-12 play, Arizona has risen to the top of the standings, sitting at 10-3 in conference play. Before beating USC last Saturday, the Wildcats came off two straight losses to Washington and UCLA, their first home loss of the season, to make things a bit tighter. ASU, however, helped the Wildcats keep a two-game lead for the top spot after the Sun Devils swept USC and UCLA last week.
Own potential No. 1 pick in NBA Draft
Since the beginning of the season, Deandre Ayton’s stock has soared through the roof. His intensity, physical nature and 7-6 wingspan makes him a threat in the paint, while also posting decent numbers from the field. Ayton leads the Wildcats in rebounds (10.7), blocks (1.8) and is behind Allonzo Trier in only minutes and points per game.
X-factor in Rawle Alkins
Alkins was sidelined for the first nine games of the regular season due to a broken foot and missed three more as the injury lingered on. In those games, Arizona played abysmal in the Battle 4 Atlantis and took an early conference loss to Colorado, proving it was missing a key component to their team. In the eleven wins with Alkins on the court, he’s shooting 50% from the field and 45.4% from 3-point range. In the three losses since suiting up, Alkins has shot 29.4% from the floor and 20% from deep. The key to stopping U of A seems to be stopping Alkins as much as possible.
In 13 Pac-12 games this year, the Wildcats are giving up an average of 18.8 free throws per game. Despite conference opponents only shooting 76.3% from the charity stripe, the Wildcats cannot afford to get into foul trouble early, especially if it’s Tra Holder or Shannon Evans II shooting, who both average over 86 and 85 percent from the line, respectively.
Right now, the Territorial Cup is held by the Sun Devil football team, and the basketball team would like to do the same. A rivalry that started over 104 years ago will be renewed for the second time this season. The Wildcats are winners of five straight head-to-head matchups, with the Sun Devils last victory coming in 2015. Arizona leads the all-time series 151-83, as ASU will look chisel away at the large margin. Bobby Hurley will also be eager to get his first victory over the red and blue.
As of Wednesday night, the Sun Devils are one-point favorites, which can largely be attributed to the home-court advantage. Tune in Thursday for part 235 of this storied rivalry.