Arizona State on Thursday rallied from an 18-point deficit and took an early second half lead, but as the final minutes ticked, the Sun Devils were helpless to stop the most imposing talent on the court.
After a somewhat quiet first half, Deandre Ayton turned into a force, leading the No. 17 Wildcats to a 77-70 win in front of 14,233 wild fans at Wells Fargo Arena.
The win kept Arizona (21-6 and 11-3 in the Pac-12) two games up in the conference with four regular-season contests to play. No. 25 ASU dropped to 19-7 and 7-7.
Just like in the first matchup in December, Ayton was the difference. The 7-foot-1 freshman finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds. In the second half alone, Ayton produced 17 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.
Even when ASU stopped Ayton, he made the right play. With three minutes left, the Sun Devils double-teamed the big man, forcing Ayton to give up the ball. He simply turned and fired to teammate Allonzo Trier, who drilled a 3 for a 68-63 lead.
After an ASU miss, Ayton took a pass from point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and dunked. On this night, he was too much.
Trier added 19 points and five assists for the Wildcats, who have beaten rival ASU six times under coach Sean Miller. Dusan Ristic added 12. Arizona shot 48.1 percent and collected 14 second-chance points, 12 coming in the second, most at Ayton’s hand.
Tra Holder had 20 points and Kodi Justice added 19 for ASU. Freshman guard Remy Martin added 10 points. ASU shot 41.3 percent and made just 7 of 12 from the foul line, both season lows. On the other end, the Sun Devils battled foul trouble in the second half. Midway through the half, post players Romello White, Mickey Mitchell and De’Quon Lake all had four fouls.
A key second-half sequence: With 9:21 left, Justice stripped Trier and fed Shannon Evans. The senior guard, however, missed the breakaway dunk that would’ve given ASU the lead. On the other end, Alkins converted a 3-point play for a 56-52 lead.
With 3:53 left, Justice knotted the score with a jumper, but Ayton tipped in a Ristic miss and the next time down fed Trier for the 3-point play.
After a hot finish to the first half, ASU picked right up in the second, scoring eight quick points for a 46-39 lead, the Sun Devils’ biggest of the game. Arizona coach Sean Miller called time. And the Wildcats regrouped.
Ristic hit a jumper. Alkins sank a layup. After Evans countered, Ristic scored again, giving Arizona an 8-2 burst. With 10:43 left, Ayton made two foul shots for a 51-50 lead.
In a wild atmosphere, Arizona opened on fire. After missing their first shot, the Wildcats hit four in a row. Seven minutes in, Trier hit a 3 for a 20-9 lead. Four minutes later, Trier hit two foul shots, and just like that, ASU faced its biggest deficit of the season, down 28-11. It grew to 18.
The Sun Devils responded. With Jackson-Cartwright out of the game because of foul trouble, coach Bobby Hurley extended his defense full court, pressuring Trier. Hurley also went small, four guards and the 6-foot-8 White.
With seven minutes left, Justice drove baseline and was fouled, converting a 3-point play. Fifty seconds later, the senior guard grabbed a defensive rebound, took off down court and drained a transition 3. After an Arizona turnover, Justice connected again, a personal 9-0 run. The Sun Devils were back in the game.
Over the half’s final 7:35, ASU outscored Arizona 23-6. The Wildcats, once up comfortably, led 39-38 at halftime.
Both Arizona schools next week visit Oregon, their final trip of the Pac-12 regular season. Arizona State visits Oregon on Thursday and travels to Oregon State on Saturday. The Wildcats visit Oregon State on Thursday and face Oregon on Saturday.
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