TEMPE, Ariz - On Dec. 30, the Arizona State Sun Devils headed to Tucson with an undefeated record and a No. 3 national ranking. But the Arizona Wildcats handed ASU its first defeat in an 84-78 thriller at McKale Center.
On Thursday, ASU (19-6, 7-6 Pac-12) will try to earn some payback against UA (20-6, 10-3) in front of a sold-out Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. Will the Devils get it done? Here are a pair of predictions from the KGUN and ABC15 sports team.
KGUN sports anchor Jason Barr
Arizona has lost when either Rawle Alkins doesn't play, or when he doesn't play well. Neither of those two things will happen on Thursday night. ASU is much improved, and their home court is more of an advantage. But, they're not ready to beat this Arizona team playing its "A" game, which will happen at Wells Fargo Arena. The Wildcats also have too much of a size advantage. Prediction: 81-73 Arizona
ABC15 sports anchor Jason Snavely
Sean Miller referred to this as a “monster game.” That it is. Maybe one of the only things UA and ASU fans will agree on this week.
This game would be so much easier to predict if we knew which teams were going to show up on both sides. The Sun Devils have been wildly inconsistent since Pac-12 play began, but seem to have returned to form the last week or so. They’ve pieced together a three-game win streak and are heading into Thursday fresh off an impressive win over UCLA -- maybe their best since Kansas last December.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats managed to kick off their conference schedule winning 9 of their first 10, only to lose back-to-back games against unranked teams -- including one on their home floor. What? When was the last time that ever happened? (Answer: Feb 10, 2013 vs Cal)
If you would’ve asked me who I thought would win this game a couple weeks ago, my answer would’ve been different. It seemed as though teams had finally figured out how to beat the Sun Devils. The blueprint was exposed. But they’ve proven recently they can actually win games without putting up gaudy numbers from 3-point range.
ASU still needs to channel its inner “Guard U” play with strong performances from Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice. But if the Sun Devils can exploit one of the weakest Arizona defenses Miller’s ever had and somehow keep the Wildcats’ star power to a minimum, they’ll find themselves on the winning end of Thursday night’s rematch. One of the rowdiest crowds in Wells Fargo Arena history should play in ASU’s favor, as well.
ASU 86, Arizona 82
ABC15.com sportswriter Shane Dale
Both teams are coming off arguably their best Pac-12 performances -- the Sun Devils in a convincing win over UCLA, and the Wildcats in a double-digit victory over USC. ASU proved it can win without shooting lights out from 3, and the Cats showed they're capable of playing outstanding defense when they want to.
The Sun Devils have more size than last year's team, but it didn't help them in UA's win over ASU on Dec. 30, as potential No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton notched 23 points and 19 rebounds and fouled out ASU big man Romello White. Fellow 7-footer Dusan Ristic has been red-hot, averaging nearly 17 points and nine rebounds while shooting over 70 percent from the field in his last seven games. And guard Allonzo Trier is as steady a 20-point scorer as they come.
The Devils can potentially overcome all of this, however, if they limit sophomore guard Rawle Alkins. No player seems to be tied to UA's success more than Alkins, who scored 20 points in the Wildcats' win over USC but combined for just nine points in consecutive losses to Washington and UCLA.
Bottom line: I think Alkins, who had a double-double (11 points, 15 rebounds) at ASU last year, will have another strong game, and it will be just enough to allow the Wildcats to overcome a resurgent Sun Devil squad and a hostile Tempe crowd.