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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “‘To me, it’s a rivalry again'”


    TEMPE – They arrived in Tempe with a seven-game winning streak and confidence flying higher than Michael Phelps in South Carolina.

    Then the buzz kill hit.

    It hit hard.

    Sunday night’s prime time showdown wasn’t a do-or-die postseason scenario.

    It meant much, much more.

    With both teams combining for 11 straight wins heading into the rivalry, all eyes fixed on the biggest Duel in the Desert in decades. Ticket scalpers wanted recession-proof prices outside the game before tipoff – a rare demand in relation to all the empty seats the Sun Devils typically play under.

    Wells Fargo Arena felt electric, lined with the special edge these rivalry games live by.

    But in the end, it was the same ol’ road woes that hurt the Wildcats – losers of four straight games to the Sun Devils.

    Time to shave the scruff.

    “”To me, it’s a rivalry again,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said after the game. “”I know Arizona State would like to say it’s always been, but really it hasn’t. Not till the last couple years.””

    Specifically, Jan. 9, 2008 began the process of reviving competitive basketball – the date that sent the top-25 ranked Wildcats spiraling into mediocrity from that point onward.

    A sea of yellow rushed the floor after ASU’s overtime win, ending a one-sided barrage of enduring losses in 24 of 25 games to the Wildcats.

    It looked all-too-familiar on Sunday, as students rushed the floor once again.

    Their reasoning? I’m still not sure, and wondering if a ranked team has ever rushed the floor over an unranked opponent that almost came back from a 17-point deficit.

    But at the same time, the floor rush felt so different. Sunday night, No. 14 ASU turned the corner and officially took control over this rivalry.

    A win would’ve sent Arizona back into The Associated Press Top 25 poll – an opportunity to shed the plague of mediocrity that has haunted the program since its initial loss to the Sun Devils last year.

    In a season that, so far, looked to be heading in the opposite direction from the Wildcats’ 2007-08 campaign, one bitter number keeps the taste of piss yellow in the mouths of Arizona fans:

    Zero; that is, wins against the Sun Devils.

    Oh-for-four for the past two interim head coaches.

    Just as the 2008-09 campaign looked to finally shed the distractions that pulled it downward last season and earlier this year, the Wildcats got another ripple thrown into the equation.

    Only 10 guys dressed for Sunday’s game after UA interim head coach Russ Pennell suspended freshmen Garland Judkins and D.J. Shumpert for failing to meet team obligations.

    Whether or not that directly affected the team’s performance is one thing. But distractions are distractions, and UA forward Chase Budinger said the team wasn’t practicing with the same edge and intensity leading up to this weekend’s game.

    “”I think some of the guys got complacent off the winning,”” Budinger said.

    Added Hill: “”It all comes down to practice. The last couple practices should have been better. Just taking a little load off – we can’t do that. After the UCLA game, practices started going down.””

    Initially it looked like the eight-day break from last weekend’s game would give Arizona’s Big Three a much-needed breather after weekends of 40-minute basketball.

    In reality, the Wildcats seemed stale after the layover, late on rotating to defend 3-point land. ASU made 10-of-16 from beyond the arc during the first half.

    Down the stretch, the same Jordan Hill hook shot that would’ve easily swished through the McKale Center nets rimmed out in Tempe.

    Despite the scattered pockets of UA fans, the Arizona team that played in Wells Fargo Area Sunday night looked nothing like the team that won its five straight games in McKale Center.

    The gap of Arizona’s level of play between home and away looked much wider than the 110 miles from Tucson to Tempe.

    “”That’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever been in Wells Fargo, and I’ve been in here a few times,”” Pennell said. “”By far and away, from the opening tip – I mean, I could hear it from the locker room before the game started.””

    The game Sunday gave the Wildcats a chance to control their own destiny as the season winds down. With UCLA’s loss to Washington State on Saturday, two four-loss teams sat atop the Pacific 10 Conference standings: ASU and Washington.

    An Arizona win over ASU would’ve given the Wildcats the inside track at winning a wide-open Pac-10, with another marquee showdown in Seattle on tap next weekend.

    Instead, Arizona will continue under the radar and limelight for another week – a role they’ve been stuck in since losing in Tempe last season.

    Time to shave.

    Bryan Roy is a journalism
    sophomore. He can be reached at

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