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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Duel in the hottest of deserts

    ASU fans celebrate on the court in Wells Fargo Arena after the Sun Devils beat the UA mens basketball team 64-59 in overtime last season. ASU holds a three-game win streak over Arizona and both teams are on a combined 11-game winning streak.
    ASU fans celebrate on the court in Wells Fargo Arena after the Sun Devils beat the UA men’s basketball team 64-59 in overtime last season. ASU holds a three-game win streak over Arizona and both teams are on a combined 11-game winning streak.

    Arizona at No. 14 ASU

    And you thought last weekend was The Big Game.

    Well, here they go again. A resurgent Arizona men’s basketball team faces yet another big game, one which is quite possibly the biggest of this season to date.

    The Wildcats (18-8, 8-5 Pacific 10 Conference) may be streaking at just the right time, but No. 14 ASU (20-5, 9-4) isn’t losing ground.

    Winners of four straight games – including an identical sweep of the Los Angeles schools last weekend – the No. 14 Sun Devils are seeking a season sweep over Arizona on Sunday in Tempe at 8 p.m.

    Combined, the two teams have won 11 straight games.

    Just when you thought the desert couldn’t get any hotter.

    “”This is more than just a normal game,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”I feel that this is a huge game for both teams. It’s a rivalry game, their crowd is going to be hopping. It’s going to be loud in there. It’s just a huge, huge game.

    “”The coaches try to preach to us as much as they can on rivalry games. Your cross-town rivals is always a huge game,”” he added. “”There’s a lot of bragging rights that goes into these games.””

    He said it himself. From the guy who has taken a one-game-at-a-time approach since Day One, never downplaying or feeling intimidated by the opposition, Budinger admitted that Sunday will be more than just a game.

    Arguably, it’s the biggest Duel in the Desert in recent memory.

    ASU head coach Herb Sendek said fans will have to TiVo “”Desperate Housewives,”” but by the magnitude of this game, maybe even a State of the Union address would get the back seat in the Grand Canyon State.

    The second-place Sun Devils lead the Wildcats by just one game in Pac-10 standings this late in the season.

    But it’s the recent history between Arizona and ASU that merits Sunday night’s hype.

    After man-handling the Sun Devils for more than two decades – beating them 24 of 25 times – the Wildcats now find themselves in a three-game losing streak against ASU.

    More than half of the UA’s student body has never seen the once-untouchable Arizona defeat its once-pushover in-state rivals.

    The losing skid all began in Tempe, in a dramatic 64-59 overtime loss last season on Jan. 9, 2008.

    “”As far as I can remember, just a very disappointing loss,”” Budinger said. “”We were so close and then the last 30 seconds kind of just dismantled us.””

    It was no fluke. ASU completed the improbable season sweep by surviving a 59-54 victory in Tucson on Feb. 10, only the school’s third win in McKale Center since 1983.

    The Sun Devils kept taking advantage of Arizona’s general downward trend by taking the first of this season’s series in Tucson on Jan. 21 – the last loss on Arizona’s schedule, after which they rattled off seven straight wins.

    “”As far as record games, you could say they hold at the top right now because they’ve won the last three games,”” Budinger said. “”We’re just trying to go into their place and get one back.””

    The trip to Tempe also signifies the homecoming for UA interim head coach Russ Pennell, who spent eight seasons (1998-2006) at ASU as an assistant, and most recently, the past two seasons as the team’s radio color commentator.

    Pennell said that although his team prepares for each game with consistency, he realizes that there’s a little extra pizzazz in a rivalry game.

    “”When I was (at ASU), that was really in Lute’s heyday. The players he had there at the time was just incredible,”” Pennell said. “”We knew they were ahead of us when it came to just talent. To me it was more of a form of admiration that we tried to catch them.

    “”They were a standard,”” he added. “”So much of this game is having the right players to play in that game.””

    UA wing Zane Johnson, who admitted his face wasn’t very recognizable in his hometown of Phoenix because he received little playing time last year, attended a few games at Wells Fargo Arena during high school while being recruited by ASU.

    But Johnson admitted that Arizona was always his top school, and that he enjoyed watching Lute Olson defeat the Sun Devils in double-digit victories in Tempe.

    “”I really didn’t play too much last year so not many people knew who I was (back in Phoenix),”” Johnson said. “”I think it makes the game fun, mean a little bit more.””

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