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ASU basketball: Deandre Ayton the difference in crunch time once again against Sun Devils

When in doubt, give the ball to Deandre Ayton

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I could sit here all night and write about why and how ASU fell to Arizona 77-70 Thursday night in Tempe.

The Devils fell into a 17-point hole early, they shot 15 less free throws, they grabbed 16 less rebounds, they had three big men in foul trouble practically the whole game.

Yes, everything above is true. But here’s something else that’s true. The main reason that Bobby Hurley fell to 0-6 against the Wildcats: He, and ASU, don’t have Deandre Ayton.

Surprising? Probably not. The Wildcats do have a national treasure, but he’s no state secret. Just giving his 7-feet, 250-pound measurables, it wouldn’t have taken a novice to have pointed him out Thursday.

ASU, and every other team in college basketball, can point him out just fine, its stopping him where the problems lie. The Nassau, Bahamas native is averaging 19.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

In his two career games against the Sun Devils, Ayton has totaled 48 points, 35 rebounds and six blocks on over 65 percent shooting. In Tempe, he had 25 and 16; not a bad night at the office.

His presence alone brings a double-team. His size and physicality draws countless defensive fouls. He both directly and indirectly creates space and open shots for his teammates.

The center’s passing ability has been praised, but ASU guard Kodi Justice doesn’t see his skills dishing the ball as rocket science.

“I mean he’s 7-1,” Justice said. “(He) can see over anyone. We’re trapping with somebody who’s 6-5, 6-4; so he can just see right over us. It’s not that difficult when you’re 7-1.”

Mix in his size and ability with his coordination and skill, and Ayton feels like a cheat-code — someone only conceivable through a 2K MyPlayer.

No one in the country has a Deandre Ayton, and maybe that’s why no one in the country can prepare for him. As Hurley pointed out: “None of my walk-ons could do that.”

Hurley’s praise for the center was extensive, saying that Ayton might be the best college big that he’s seen.

“He can step away and hit the jump shot. He doesn’t get that tired either,” Hurley said. “We kind of had him on the perimeter running around on ball-screens... but he holds his own away from the basket on defense.”

The Sun Devils have a plethora of great talent — the “Guard U” moniker didn’t come on its own — but in crunch time, ASU doesn’t have a go-to player who has a better-than-not chance to get a bucket when it’s needed most.

In essence, they don’t have Deandre Ayton.

When Arizona was up just a pair with a little over seven minutes left to play on Thursday, it exploited its mismatch. The Wildcats didn’t dillydally around the perimeter, they pushed the ball down-low into the hands of Ayton.

UA scored 21 points from that point on. The freshman had the first nine, finishing the stretch with 13. Ayton makes 60 percent of the shots he takes. Giving him the ball, in any situation, is a profitable gamble.

The Devils’ guards are phenomenal, they’re reliable — but pushing the ball to a guard night in and night out when the game’s on the line doesn’t always breed consistent success.

Maybe that’s why Arizona is atop the Pac-12, because as Ayton put it after the game: “As I go, the team goes.”