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Shades of the ’70s: UA-ASU hoops a rivalry once more

Citizen Staff Writer

It looks as if the Arizona-Arizona State basketball game has turned into a rivalry again.

In truth – and retrospect – it really hadn’t been one since the late 1970s. Back then, one never knew who was going to win, as the teams split the series four of the last five years prior to the 1980s. Soon after, ASU reeled off nine straight wins before former UA coach Lute Olson arrived in 1983. Olson won 43 of 49.

These days, who knows which team will win? In the first meeting this season, the Wildcats were underdogs by 2.5 points. UA lost 53-47 in a game closer than the score indicates, and also, one of the uglier games between the two schools.

Come Sunday night in Tempe, it’s more than likely the Sun Devils will be the favorite again. Two, three or four points – tops.

For each team, the game is an NCAA Tournament résumé-builder or résumé-killer. The winner stays in the upper half of the Pacific 10 Conference race, inching closer to a solid NCAA bid; the loser falls back in the league standings and gets its credibility questioned.

Speaking of credibility, I had mine questioned by a reader after last month’s game at McKale Center. I had written about a controversial call – UA’s Jordan Hill was called for an illegal screen with 11 seconds left and UA down 47-45 – after speaking to Pac-10 director of officials Bill McCabe. The Wildcats also were called for a technical, dooming their chances.

“I can see that you are still stinging from the UofA loss,” Charles Chavez wrote. “I love it! You only cry a lot when ASU beats UofA. I never cry or make excuses when ASU loses games. Yes, you are right, UofA has owned ASU in basketball, but that was in the past and I do not dwell in the past.”

I have no allegiance to any team – heck, I wanted to be a Sun Devil before I went to college at New Mexico State – but that e-mail points out how crazy the UA-ASU basketball rivalry has become.

Just read the comment sections on our Web section and others. Stories can be about the mortgage crisis or the bad economy – or the virtues of UA interim coach Russ Pennell – and eventually the UA-ASU alums turn their hate on one another.

Some comments are too vile to print for a family paper. Here are some civilized ones:

“This may be ASU’s best team in years,” one presumed UA fan wrote this week on a story about UA failing to make the top 25. “But they don’t have the heart. And they don’t have the tough wins. Maybe when they start playing a tough non-conference schedule, it’ll come together.

“I’d rather be not ranked and under the radar than over-rated.”

Another UA fan referred to the Sun Devils as “Scummies.”

“Scummies are running the perfect course that they always do . . . top rankings in baseball (choke), top rankings in football (choke), top rankings in basketball . . . did I hear someone coughing up I-10? Anyone know the Heimlich? Go Cats! Smoke the Scum Weevils.”

ASU fans know how to fight back:

• “Too bad . . . . so sad. Sun Devils No. 11 . . . No. 1 in your heart.”

• “Go Devils beat the Wildsums.”

• “Phoenix Suns G.M. Steve Kerr (a former UA star) would never draft a Sun Devil,” one wrote on a story about ASU’s Jame Harden. “He is blinded by his university of arrogance life. Kerr needs to be fired so he can go back to Tucson where he belongs.”

There’s a name for this envy: “schadenfreude,” a term used for people who get delight in other people’s misfortunes or troubles.

Both sides need to tone it down. I understand the fan thing, but ripping the other guy to make yourself feel good seems pointless.

Then again, ASU fans have waited a long time to thump their chests. Until recently, Arizona had two 12-game win streaks, one 11-game streak, a five-game and three-game streak.

Arizona State, under Bill Frieder, came up with a three-game run against UA in the mid-1990s and the Sun Devils are currently on a three-game win streak heading into Sunday’s game under Herb Sendek.

“I think it’s good to have a rivalry,” said UA guard Zane Johnson, a native Phoenician. “It makes the game fun.”

Sendek deserves a lot of the credit.

So does Pennell, a former ASU assistant, who has held the Wildcats together after the retirement of Lute Olson.

“I think it’s a healthy rivalry,” Pennell said. “You’re going to have a percentage (of fans) that go overboard with it. But most handle it the right way, but sometimes it gets a little overheated.”

He then reminds us all, “It’s not war. It’s just a basketball game.”

To some, unfortunately, it seems like life and death. And we all know that’s hardly the case.

Steve Rivera’s e-mail:


Shades of the ’70s: UA-ASU hoops a rivalry once more




Continued from 1C


Arizona (18-8, 8-5)

at No. 14 ASU (20-5, 9-4)

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Tempe, Wells Fargo Arena


Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM

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