The regular season finale is almost here at the Arizona State Sun Devils (20-9, 11-6) travel south to take on the rival Arizona Wildcats (17-13, 8-9) before both teams head to Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament.
It’ll be a 2 p.m. tip at the McKale Center and the game will be broadcasted on CBS.
We caught up with our friends down south to get their take on the matchup. Arizona Desert Swarm’s Scott Moran gave us his thoughts ahead of another rivalry contest.
What are the current feelings around Tucson about the men’s program?
Scott Moran: I’ll admit, not great. I don’t think anybody around U of A feels good about men’s basketball, but as the season wears on and things have continued to be subpar, people have calmed down a bit. Right now, the mood is less “the sky is falling” and more “the sky has fallen, now how do we fix it”. Since a number one recruiting class is coming in next year and there’s at least a chance Arizona beats ASU Saturday, the mood is on the rise. If FBI stuff keeps coming up, or if ASU smokes UA, or if Nico Mannion and Josh Green disappoint, confused danger will return fast.
Does the typical crowd at McKale still show up because it’s the ASU game?
SM: Oh, absolutely. It’s a not uncommon (and not *completely* unfair) jab that UA athletics has less fan support than ASU. There’s a lot of reasons for that, and the gap isn’t that large, but when UA and ASU are playing, the fans are there and they are loud. Now that the tables are turned and a Wildcats win would be an upset that puts a decent dent in ASU’s bubble hopes? It’ll be a great atmosphere as long as the game is close or Arizona is winning. Expect a full, loud McKale for the game.
How much of a difference does a healthy Brandon Williams make in the re-match?
SM: Enough of a difference that Arizona has a shot. I have been baffled all year long by Sean Miller and the backcourt’s insistence on shooting so many threes this season, as Arizona is at best an inconsistent team from deep. Brandon Williams is at least a solid three point shooter, and if the Wildcats insist on living and dying by the three, then Williams improves their odds. The fact that Arizonaalmost beat ASU in Tempe without Williams gives even more reason for optimism. With Williams on the floor, Arizona can outduel the Devils. It just comes down to execution.
Do you think the Arizona players embrace the possibility of the spoiler role?
SM: I would say so, only because this roster is so young. Most of the team either weren’t on the team last year or sat at the end of the bench, so they haven’t experienced life as a conference heavyweight very much. It also helps that this is a rivalry game, and that it’s in Tucson. Miller has tanked a ton of goodwill this year, but he’s still a good coach, and if he plays that angle with this team, I can definitely see them embracing the role and coming out hot in front of the ZonaZoo.
What are UA’s keys to keeping their home winning streak over their rival alive?
SM: I wish I wasn’t saying this, because it still makes me angry even going into game 31, but three point shooting. If this team is just that determined to make it work even when it usually hasn’t, then now would be a great time to catch fire. Another big key will be keeping Chase Jeter on the court. It’s not a sure thing that he’ll even play due to injury, and if he plays he might not be 100%. But if he’s on the court, and can still play, then his presence will be key in the paint. Make threes, get Jeter to make some big plays down low, and let Tucson go out with one happy memory from this season.
SM: I’m really torn here. Arizona played well in Tempe despite injuries and a losing streak, and this game is in Tucson with a healthier roster for U of A. At the same time, the last two months have taught me pessimism in regards to this team, and a Jeter-less Arizona team scares me. This really reminds me of the football matchup between these two teams, where Arizona has been disappointing and is playing spoiler at home, and ASU has roughly met expectations. That, uh, didn’t go well for Arizona last time. So I’ll say ASU wins by one 76-75. I hope I’m wrong.