All good rivalries must have a solid give and take. Both sides must have a chance to come away with a victory which creates the drama and uncertainty sports fans live for.
For decades the Arizona-Arizona State men’s basketball matchup has been a one-sided affair dominated by the team in Tucson. Along the way, the McKale Center has become one of the toughest environments in the nation, and the Wildcat basketball program has emerged as a west coast powerhouse reaching blue blood status in college basketball.
But for a Saturday afternoon in early March, you could feel a momentum shift en route to a 72-64 Arizona State (21-9, 12-6) victory over the rival Arizona Wildcats (17-14, 8-10). The Sun Devils used a strong second half offensive output and great defense to secure the season sweep over their rival.
“It was a team that was motivated to win in one of the toughest places you can play in college basketball,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said after earning his first win in Tucson during his tenure.
Sophomore guard Remy Martin was tremendous throughout, continuing his trend of becoming a nemesis in the Old Pueblo. Martin led all scorers with 27 points and added eight rebounds and seven assists.
“On the biggest stage that’s where I want to play,” Martin said. “This is a very big stage, it’s personal between us too and they’re a great team. We played our hearts out today, we worked as hard as we can. When the stage and the lights are on I want to play.”
It was a chippy first half that ended with the teams tied thanks to a tremendous block from freshman Elias Valtonen. The Finish product played very good minutes in the first half due to ASU’s foul trouble.
Sophomore wing Kimani Lawrence has battled through some inconsistent play throughout the season, but came through in the clutch when his team needed it most. Lawrence finished with 10 points shooting an efficient 3-for-4 from the field and played tremendous minutes with ASU missing freshman Taeshon Cherry who was out with concussion symptoms.
“I came into the game confident,” Lawrence said. “I had a really good week of practice and it was just about trusting the work.”
ASU has for the majority of the season relied upon their ‘big four’ to win games, but when the whole rotation is having a positive impact they are a tough team to beat. It was evidenced by the unexpected contributions from both Valtonen and Lawrence.
While the Sun Devils were bit by the foul bug in the first half, the tables turned in the second half. Arizona lost both of their primary point guards in senior transfer Justin Coleman and freshman Brandon Williams who fouled out in the second half.
Senior forward Ryan Luther who had a big game in Tempe earlier this season was the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 12 points, but was less effective from three point distance where he only shot 2-for-9 including missing his final seven attempts.
Junior forward Chase Jeter had some moments off the bench as well as he was dealing with a bone bruise in his knee. He scored 11 points and collected four rebounds and appeared to move around the court well during his playing time.
Arizona was an offensive challenged team entering the matchup, and the second half defense from Arizona State gave them the cushion they needed to put the game to bed.
Couple that with UA’s lack of depth, the Sun Devils gave the ball to their point guard and he did the rest.
“I took it upon myself as well to say ‘hey I’m not going to let us lose’ I’m here for you guys no matter what,” Martin said.
ASU now turns their attention the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas where they will await the winner of the 7 vs. 10 matchup on Thursday.
While some might say the Sun Devils’ resume presently isn’t worth an automatic bid, their head coach certainly disagrees.
“I know that we’ve done enough and I knew coming in if we got this one there would be no doubt,” Hurley said. “I really feel strongly that we have a great record in conference, in a power conference we are number two in sole possession and we have the three wins in the non conference that you can’t take away from us.”