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Saturday / December 15.
  • Deandre Ayton drops 25 and 16 as Arizona holds off Arizona State

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    By JOHN MARSHALLL

    TEMPE, Ariz. – (AP) — Arizona’s players left the court after warm-ups to a profane chant from Arizona State’s students. Once the game started, the action got so intense a Wildcats’ male cheerleader was escorted out by security.

    No question, the rivalry in the desert has heated up.

    One aspect remains the same: Arizona finding a way to win.

    Deandre Ayton had 25 points and 16 rebounds, and No. 17 Arizona used a late run to hold off No. 25 Arizona State 77-70 on Thursday night to sweep the season series.

    “It was hard fought,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we played through some rough patches.”

    Arizona (21-6, 11-3 Pac-12) grinded out a victory the first game and got off to a fast start in the rematch, quieting the raucous Wells Fargo Arena crowd by building an 18-point lead.

    The Sun Devils (19-7, 7-7) revved up their run game and the fans after finding their groove, going on a 31-6 halftime-spanning run to go up seven.

    Arizona clawed its way back and traded baskets with Arizona State until, like it did in Tucson, made the big plays down the stretch. Allonzo Trier scored 19 points and hit a 3-pointer during a late 7-0 that put the Wildcats up 70-63 with 90 seconds left.

    “We’ve got to find a way to not get ourselves in holes early,” said Arizona State’s Kodi Justice, who had 19 points. “To exert all that energy to come all the way back, that’s why we came up short.”

    Tra Holder led Arizona State with 20 points.

    The first meeting, Dec. 30 in Tucson, was one of the most anticipated in the rivalry’s 105-year history.

    Arizona State was the talk of college basketball and Division I’s lone undefeated team headed into that game after going 12-0 in nonconference.

    Arizona had rebounded from a dismal trip to the Bahamas and was playing well.

    The game lived up to the hype, going down the wire after the Sun Devils rallied from a 12-point deficit. Arizona took advantage of its size inside and made the plays down the stretch to win it 84-78.

    The sequel rocked — almost literally.

    The Arizona State fans were rematch ready, filling Wells Fargo Arena to the rafters and with roars, nearly shaking the building after Michael Buffer introduced the Sun Devils’ starting lineup.

    The Wildcats were ready for them, opening on an 11-2 run and making 10 of their first 12 shots to build a 28-11 lead that eventually stretched to 18.

    “That first 10-11 minutes is as good as an opponent has played against us both ends of the floor,” Arizona State Bobby Hurley said. “We were in trouble there.”

    Arizona State snapped out of its offensive doldrums and slowed Arizona with full-court pressure. The Sun Devils went on a 16-2 run — started by Justice’s three straight 3s — to cut Arizona’s lead to pull within four and cut it to 39-38 by halftime.

    Arizona State took its first lead on a corner 3-pointer to open the second half and the Sun Devils scored the first eight points to go up 46-39 as the decibel level rose with each shot.

    Arizona fought back and the teams played an entertaining back-and-forth game until the Wildcats finished off the Sun Devils, just as they did in Tucson.

    “We were just being smart, making sure we take our time,” Trier said. “When they make a run like that, they get sparked by the crowd and really get a lot of high energy and they start playing harder.”

    BIG PICTURE

    Arizona State made inroads against its rival this season, but still can’t find a way to beat them.

    Arizona played a superb game against Southern California after losing to UCLA last week and could have some momentum going after pulling out a win in a rowdy road atmosphere.

    FREE THROWS

    Arizona State is one of the nation’s best teams at getting free throws, but it was the Wildcats who were on a march to the line. Arizona made 21 of 27 free throws and had Arizona State’s trio of big men in foul trouble in the second half.

    Arizona State went 7 of 12 on free throws, including 1 of 6 in the second half.

    “Huge, huge free-throw advantage, especially on the road for a team to out-shoot a team in conference play,” Hurley said. “It’s something we’ve got to do a better job of.”

    UP NEXT

    Arizona plays at Oregon State next Thursday.

    Arizona State plays at Oregon next Thursday.

    Photo: AP

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.