Arizona State started fast, but No. 4 Arizona caught up to and then sprinted past the Sun Devils for a sobering 91-79 loss on Monday night.
A potent combination of speed and size allowed the Wildcats (20-2, 10-1 Pac-12) to overcome an electric start to the game by the Sun Devils (7-14, 3-8 Pac-12), who knocked down four 3-pointers in the opening 3:08 and jumped to a 14-1 lead.
But if Arizona State thought they were going to win a track meet with Arizona, the next 35 minutes were enough evidence to the contrary. The Wildcats unleashed their offense on a 14-3 run and were back in the game both on the scoreboard and emotionally as the large swaths of Arizona fans at Desert Financial Arena made their presence known.
The early spurt by the Wildcats set the tone for the rest of the contest. Eight consecutive points in the paint. By the sound of the final horn, 52 points were scored by Arizona at point-blank range.
“It wasn’t only their size in the front-court,” said Bobby Hurley, Arizona State head coach. “They had some run-outs in the transition game and you could see how quickly they could put points on the board.”
Two weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona State was dead even with Arizona at halftime. Despite the repeated success inside during the first half, the Sun Devils were able to keep pace due to a number of scorers getting on the scoring column. In total, seven of the nine players who saw the court for Arizona State put points on the board, with Kimani Lawrence and Marreon Jackson leading the way with seven points each.
Coming out of the break, the Sun Devils were still very much in the ballgame down 40-36. The home crowd, which had the student section filled to the brim, was still a factor. But Arizona simply took the governor off the motor and hit the gas as soon as the second half began.
In a matter of just under five minutes, Arizona blew the doors off the game as the visitors built a 19-point advantage at 59-40. It was shock and awe as Wildcats Christian Koloko, Dalen Terry, and Koloko again threw down consecutive dunks on three possessions, each seemingly more emphatic than the last.
Arizona State had no response. The offense reverted back to its shell of isolation plays and stagnant offense as their rivals pulled away.
“We came out flat,” Lawrence said. “We were just chasing from there on out. Can’t do that with a team like (Arizona).”
Six Wildcats notched double-figure scoring nights. Forward Azuolas Tubelis led the way for all scorers with 19 points, a far departure from the Tubelis that was visibly hobbled by an ankle injury during the last meeting.
“It’s rare that a team has that quality of an inside game that they can go to in the half-court offense, yet be very lethal in the open court with too in the transition game with the athleticism of their wings,” Hurley said.
For the opening five minutes of the contest, Arizona State played like a team still riding high from their upset victory over UCLA on Saturday night. The next 35 minutes belonged to the Wildcats as a testament to their superiority both in this game and over the history of the rivalry.
Seconds before the final horn, Sun Devil reserve John Olmsted threw down a meaningful dunk for those who had invested more than just their time into the game. But that was the only win those Sun Devils fans would take out of the night. It belonged to the Wildcats, who have their sights trained on the NCAA Tournament. For Arizona State, the rest of the season is best utilized as games to prepare for what they hope will be an improbable run through the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Sun Devils will travel to the Pacific Northwest to face Washington and Washington State next weekend.