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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Roles reversed

    Historically speaking, the Duel in the Desert’s hardwood series never came close. Lute Olson and Co. could always Bear Down to deliver an ASU beat down.ÿ

    Year after year, his consistency prevailed.

    “”And that’s how it should be,”” UA forward Zane Johnson said Monday.

    Of course, Johnson quickly retracted his words, realizing that his statement might end up on bulletin board somewhere in Tempe as a motivational tactic for ASU.ÿ

    Maybe a little cross-state smack talk was something traditional Sun Devil teams needed to keep competitive over a period of one-sided losses.

    But not today.

    Not when No. 17 ASU (15-3, 4-2 Pacific 10 Conference) enters McKale Center tonight at 7:30 favored over an unranked and urgent Arizona (11-7, 2-4) squad.

    In one of the Grand Canyon State’s most historic rivalries, tonight’s matchup looks far from traditional.

    “”When I grew up, ASU never even came close to beating Arizona,”” said Johnson, a Phoenix native. “”It was just a beating every time.””

    Tonight marks the 214th meeting between the in-state rivals in a series that dates back to 1914. Up until last season, the Wildcats had won 24 of the previous 25 games.

    But last season changed it all, as luxurious expectations suddenly saw the gap between both programs diminish.

    ASU swept the Wildcats, including a dramatic 59-54 UA loss in McKale Center last February – not since 1995 had the Sun Devils accomplished such a feat.

    “”You can kind of see the motivation on their side, saying that Arizona has always beaten ASU. And they’re probably using that as motivation, being like, this is the reverse year,”” UA forward Chase Budinger said Monday. “”This is their year to come into Tucson and beat Arizona.””

    In last season’s Tucson matchup, Budinger shot a dismal 1-for-12 from the field and missed all six of his 3-point shots. The shooting slump spread throughout the entire Wildcats roster, except those named Jerryd Bayless who finished with a game-high 39 points.

    Bayless couldn’t single-handedly deliver the win and Arizona felt the tide sharply turn. Years of watching Goliath slay David, suddenly the Sun Devils began to grasp UA’s territorial reign.

    “”As players, we’ve just got to use all our losses from last year as motivation to kind of flip it back on them, and just try to protect home court, not let anyone come onto our home court and bully us around,”” Budinger said. “”Just play with that fierceness and fire that we have been playing with at home.””

    When asked if he believed his team has turned the corner, ASU head coach Herb Sendek downplayed the Sun Devils’ sudden emergence.

    “”I don’t think we have that feeling one bit. We’re very much on edge, we know we have to go down and play an outstanding game against Arizona,”” Sendek said.

    “”There’s no sense of arrival or comfort in our camp. We know we have to go down and play a great basketball game.””

    The Sun Devils became only the second team in Pac-10 history to follow a 20-loss season with a 20-win season. They accomplished such a feat between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.

    “”I really think once the game gets going, it’s a game,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”I understand the importance of the rivalry and all that, but I don’t think I’m approaching it any different than any other game.””

    No place like McKale

    McKale Center has been a comforting confine to Arizona. Tonight’s game marks a four-game homestand in Tucson, which can certainly be looked at as a sigh of relief to coaches and players.

    So far this season, the Wildcats are 0-6 in true road games. At home, they’re 8-1 this season and outscoring opponents by an average of 13.8 points per game.

    However, those home games haven’t included any top-25 talent. Aside from the 84-67 win over Kansas, the Wildcats have kept a comfortable margin against lower-level talent.

    “”Personally, I like being the underdog. I like trying to sneak up on teams,”” Budinger said. “”Maybe those teams who aren’t the underdogs are trying to play too loose, and that’s when you can kind of sneak up on them.””

    Added Johnson: “”But if we’re the underdog, we’re the underdog. We’re just going to come out and play hard.””

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