The Arizona Wildcats haven’t spent a lot of time in the past 25 years or so thinking about Arizona State as one of their big rivals.
The series has usually been one-sided, and the Cats have been more preoccupied with UCLA or Stanford or Washington, or whichever team was making a run at the conference title that particular season.
But the Sun Devils, starting with the Arizona’s post-Lute Olson era, have won seven of 11 in the rivalry, including an upset victory in Tempe in last season’s regular-season finale. That 65-63 loss to a 10-win team likely kept UA out of the NCAA Tournament.
“That was a different team. That ship has sailed,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I don’t believe that will have any motivational factor.”
In the meantime, here are three things to watch and some pregame links at the end:
1. Battle of the point guards
Oh, how we wish Arizona had made senior point guard Mark Lyons available at the team’s weekly news conference. We would have loved to hear what Lyons thought of ASU freshman Jahii Carson, who tweeted before conference play that there wasn’t a better point guard in the Pac-12.
“He’s always been a confident guy,” said Arizona sophomore Nick Johnson, who grew up playing against Carson in the Phoenix area.
Confident? OK, let’s call it that. It ain’t bragging if you can back it up, right? He’s averaging 17.1 points, 5.2 assists and shoots as many free throws as about anybody in the league.
“A guy like who has a lot of confidence about himself, you can’t really say nothing to him,” said Arizona senior Solomon Hill.
“He’s going out there and putting up his numbers. He has a little bit of stuff to back it up, but it’s not like he’s played through the Pac-12 yet. So to say something like that is a little strange. … But you would love to have a guy like that on your team.”
Arizona does. Lyons is no wallflower — a big-shot taker and big-shot maker.
“Mark is our engine,” Hill said. “I’m pretty sure Mark is more geared up than anyone for this game.”
2. Bachynski’s blocks
ASU 7-2 junior center Jordan Bachynski is a game-changer, averaging 4.5 blocks per game. Entering this week, he had blocked shots as many shots as 284 schools.
“Because they’re playing man-to-man defense, he’s much more of a rim protector than he would have been last year in their zone,” Miller said. “Because of that, he has a much stronger influence on the game.”
It will be interesting to see how Miller schemes for this.
Much will depend on if freshman Kaleb Tarczewski keeps up with Bachynski? Will Miller morph his lineup into a smaller outfit with Grant Jerrett at center? Jerrett’s 3-point shooting skill could pull Bachynski away from the basket and give Lyons, Solomon Hill and others a better chance to finish at the rim.
In any case, Hill says the usual plan is to attack. Perhaps the Cats can induce Bachynski into foul trouble, although he has yet to foul out and is averaging less than two fouls per game.
“One thing we like to do is get the bigs in foul trouble,” Hill said. “Just attacking him, making him feel uncomfortable is going to be a big part of what we do.”
3. Free throw shooting
Arizona is first in the Pac-12 in free-throw shooting at 75.9 percent. Arizona State is last at 61.5.
Who would the Cats like to see at the line for the Sun Devils late in a close game? Carrick Felix is just 59.6 percent (31 of 52), and Bachynski is at 58.0 percent (40 of 69). Junior guard Chris Colvin, ASU’s top reserve, is the team’s worst at 43.1 percent (22 of 51).
For Arizona, anybody except Tarczewski should do among the regular eight-man rotation. He is shooting only 51.5 percent (17 of 33).
Steve Rivera, FoxSportsArizona.com: For once, UA-ASU has meaning for both teams
Doug Haller, Arizona Republic: Opportunity knocks for Jahii Carson, ASU basketball
Doug Haller, Arizona Republic: ASU basketball still seeks spark from behind 3-point arc
Pregame notes from Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star
Javier Morales, WildAboutAZCats.net: Arizona-ASU outcome very significant for Miller and Sendek for different reasons