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Arizona defensive mishaps prove costly in loss to ASU

Arizona+defensive+mishaps+prove+costly+in+loss+to+ASU
Gordon Bates

TEMPE, Ariz., — The UA (21-10, 12-6 Pac-12) men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said his biggest fear this week was getting a poor performance from his usually strong team defense — and on Sunday, that’s what he got in a 87-80 loss to Arizona State at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz.

ASU’s 87 points are the most scored by Sun Devils in Pac-12 Conference play this season and the most the Wildcats have given up in the entire 2011-12 season.

The loss is a particular blow to the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament chances. A win on Sunday would have been the first step to near-certain selection into March Madness. Now, running the table at the Pac-12 Conference Tournament is a must for Arizona to make the tournament.

“Yeah, it’s the toughest (loss) of the year,” junior forward Solomon Hill said. “We just popped the bubble.”

Arizona’s strength had been defense all year, that was not the case on Sunday. Three ASU players scored 21 points or more — together surpassing the Wildcats’ season opponent average of 62 points per game.

ASU forward Jonathan Gilling had a career night, which included a crucial 3-pointer to give ASU a four-point lead with 57 seconds left. The freshman shot 7-of-8, including 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line.

“He was as big of a factor in the win as any player in the game,” Miller said.

ASU junior Carrick Felix added 23 points, and junior Trent Lockett had 21 points to go along with Gillings’ 21.

“We couldn’t stop Lockett, we couldn’t stop Felix, and if those guys are on like that it’s going to be a tough one to win,” senior Brendon Lavender said. “You saw the outcome.”

The Wildcats had ASU’s lead down to one point after a three-point play by senior Kyle Fogg. A foul by freshman Nick Johnson put Lockett at the charity stripe to push the Sun Devil lead back to three. Guard Josiah Turner then missed a point-blank layup and Arizona was forced to foul the rest of the way.

Lavender said the trouble started in the second half when Arizona’s game plan didn’t work defensively.

“Trying to swarm the ball, trying to shut down the inside,” Lavender said of what didn’t work in the Wildcats’ plan. “(ASU sophomore Jordan Bachynski) was really doing good lately. Our plan was to shut him down. It was just tough.“

The Sun Devils were 29-of-52 from the floor, which at 55.8 percent is the highest shooting percentage allowed by Arizona this season. Miller praised the Sun Devils for the work they did offensively.

“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Miller said. “Arizona State earned their victory today. They played outstanding.”

The Wildcats had four players in double figures, including Hill, Fogg, senior Jesse Perry and Lavender. Perry notched a double double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Lavender tied his career high with 18 points.

“If you watched us play on offense today you could make the case that it’s one of our best offensive performances, but we gave up 87 points,” Miller said.

The Wildcats will take on the winner of UCLA and USC in the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Arizona beat USC twice this season, but split its series with UCLA.

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