Jon Teitel's "Duel in the Desert" Thoughts
This was the 221st meeting of the in-state rivals. Even though both schools were on winter break there was a sellout crowd of 14,499 at the McKale Center that was 99% red and blue and had only a few specks of maroon and gold.
ASU is one of nine teams in the country this year that does not have a single senior on its roster, but they have remained competitive with nine of their first 12 games decided by six points or less. The two head coaches are very familiar with each other, as Sean Miller spent several years as assistant to Herb Sendek at Miami (OH) and NC State.
Both teams came out cold by shooting a combined 6-25 FG in the first eight minutes, and only one of them was able to turn it around. ASU's leading rebounder Kyle Cain picked up two fouls in the first two minutes, fouling out with 11 minutes left in the second half with no points or rebounds in only 12 minutes of on-court action.
The Sun Devils committed 13 turnovers in the first 17 minutes, as two of their top three scorers (Carrick Felix and Trent Lockett) combined for six points and six turnovers in 33 first half minutes. The lone bright spot in the 1st half was Keala King, who shot 4-6 FG and was very athletic on both ends of the court, yet he did not attempt a single shot in the second half and finished with eight points.
The play of the game came in the first half on an alley-oop from the Wildcats' Josiah Turner to Nick Johnson that caused the crowd to go nuts about the two freshmen. Turner looked sensational at time with five steals in 21 minutes off the bench, but he made a couple of horrible passes in the second half that showed he is still in need of some on-court maturity.
Two of his older teammates led the way for UofA, as senior forward Jesse Perry had a game-high 16 points (7-7 FT) and junior forward Solomon Hill (at the time the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week) had a double-double with 11 points and a game-high ten rebounds.
The three-point line was the deciding factor, as ASU made only one of its first nine attempts from behind the arc during the first 30 minutes of the game, while UofA's five starters shot 8-for-17 in a 68-51 win for the home team. The loss dropped the Devils to 4-9 on the season (their worst start in 25 years), while the Wildcats' 10-4 record put them in good shape to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
A few days later ASU suspended three players (including starters King and Cain; King has since been dismissed from the team), yet somehow eked out a nine-point road win at USC despite only having seven players get into the game. UofA took its momentum to Anaheim and promptly lost both it and the game after shooting 3-for-17 from long range in a seven-point loss to UCLA.