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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

They’re baaaaaaack

Arizonas+Rawle+Alkins%2C+right%2C+and+Deandre+Ayton%2C+left%2C+pump+up+the+crowd+with+only+1.3+seconds+left+on+the+clock+after+a+clutch+win+against+ASU.
Simon Asher
Arizona’s Rawle Alkins, right, and Deandre Ayton, left, pump up the crowd with only 1.3 seconds left on the clock after a clutch win against ASU.

Last night’s game between ASU and UA was, in a nutshell, the epitome of college basketball nowadays. The Sun Devils, ripe with senior leadership, have maximized every opportunity that has come their way. The Wildcats, filled with newcomers, have had more inconsistencies than head coach Sean Miller would like. 

And there they were, two teams that gave us a glimpse of what this season may entail as it unfolds. 

The answer may be that in the end, talent prevails, and for the Wildcats they have the supreme ruler in that area in the form of freshman Deandre Ayton. That is not an understatement, he is that good, as you may have heard by now. His efforts have given Arizona some wiggling room in the chemistry department, and from the looks of it, this team is trending up fast.

Arizona's Deandre Ayton shows a barrage of emotion after picking up an and-one late in the UA-ASU game. Ayton had 23 points.
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton shows a barrage of emotion after picking up an and-one late in the UA-ASU game. Ayton had 23 points.

But the underlying theme of what is transpiring with the Wildcats is that they are nowhere near their peak. Its’ ability ebbs and flows from the valley that was the Bahamas to the peaks by which they have beaten two top-ten basketball teams in December. So which is the real Arizona?

You have to hedge toward the latter, don’t you?

The train wreck that was Atlantis seems like a bad dream rather than reality. Since then, the Wildcats have reeled off eight straight wins and have looked like a top-five basketball team, like their preseason ranking suggested. The focus now turns to Pac-12 play, an area where Miller is at his best. He will use the following 17 games to mold, manipulate and toy with his young basketball team in an effort to get over the biggest hurdle of his career and reach the Final Four.

What is even better is that the Wildcats have someone up I-10 that can matchup, virtually making it impossible to take an off night. The Sun Devils will continue to nip at the Wildcats heels’ just as they peskily did Saturday night in Tucson. Fans of both teams can only hope that this is Tobacco Road reinvented and stretched out another 100 miles. The two head coaches, Miller and ASU’s Bobby Hurley, are an iso-cameraman’s dream.

Arizona State Head Coach Bobby Hurley shouts at the referees after a slew of fouls during the UA-ASU game.
Arizona State Head Coach Bobby Hurley shouts at the referees after a slew of fouls during the UA-ASU game.

Defensively, the Wildcats are getting better. Arizona’s defensive effort against ASU was solid. Holding a team averaging beyond 90 points a game to 78 is no easy task. The Sun Devils work in pulses, not waves with sudden bursts that put them back into games, as they did on several occasions in McKale. They were impressive, but Arizona was better. 

Arizona State's Tra Holder muscles his way past heavy Arizona defense. Holder had 31 points and went 15-for-16 shooting on the night.
Arizona State’s Tra Holder muscles his way past heavy Arizona defense. Holder had 31 points and went 15-for-16 shooting on the night.

Chemistry takes a while, and by that measure, perhaps ASU has reached their peak. We’ll find out soon, but if their peak is a top-five team in the country, I’m sure they’ll take it. For Arizona it is still a work in progress, but you can see it coming together game by game.

Ayton and Ristic have grown to be more comfortable with each other on the court. At one point there was four consecutive possessions where Ayton had one-on-one’s due to Ristic showing his ability to hit a jumper. Add Trier to the mix and the occasional Parker Jackson-Cartwright three and you have the makings of a solid overall team. That doesn’t even throw in Rawle Alkins, who by all accounts had his worst game of the season in the win. Get Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith, Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akot to contribute more consistently and this team could be dominant.

Arizona still has a long way to go before their attempt at a March run. The added element of a Sun Devil basketball program that came out of nowhere has made this season downright fun. Such was the case in Tucson and will be the case in the rematch February 15th in Tempe. Buckle up!


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