Sun Devils offense falters down the stretch in 73-60 loss to No. 7 Wildcats

After a strong first half keeping up with No. 7 Arizona, Arizona State struggled down the stretch, shooting 30 percent from the field in the second half.

Emotions run high in any Arizona State-Arizona matchup, but on Saturday, in only a one-point game at halftime, the question was who would crack first. 

ASU fell culprit.

With the Sun Devils lacking the energy they needed out of the gates in the second half, the No .7 Wildcats pounced on their opportunity to make a 14-3 run in just under five minutes. It was the first true run of either team as the Wildcats took control of the game and didn't look back.

With chants of "U of A," raining down at Wells Fargo Arena, ASU lost 73-60 in front of 9,494 in attendance in Tempe.

ASU's offensive production was a tie for its second-worst scoring production night on the season. ASU lost 68-60 to Davidson on Nov. 20 and 68-43 to Cal on Feb. 8. 

"To give up 73, I would think we'd have a good chance to win based on how our offense is," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "But we just didn't have a great night at that end of the floor and Arizona had a lot to do with that. It was perfect storm of how not to begin a half."

With ASU shooting only 30 percent from the field in the second half, the Wildcats were able to keep a strong lead for the majority of the second half. They had a slight hiccup, only up eight points after ASU senior guard Torian Graham hit a three-pointer with 7:56 left in the second half, but like they had done earlier in the half, Arizona responded.

Going on a quick 10-2 run over three minutes, the Wildcats extended their lead to 16 points and held off late ASU push to finish the game. 

With the loss in their last regular season game of the season, the Sun Devils dropped to 14-17 overall and 7-11 in Pac-12 play.

"It felt like the energy we had in the first half wasn't there in the second half," ASU guard Kodi Justice said. "But we started picking it up and starting pressuring and making plays, but they just kept making more plays and hitting shots on the other end."

Justice led the Sun Devils with 17 points. He was 6-of-10 of the field, 4-of-6 from the three-point line. Justice was averaging 20.5 points in the past two games while shooting 11-of-18 from behind the arc. Justice stepped in again for less than ideal performance from junior guard Tra Holder, who only had eight points on the night. 

Graham finished the game with 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 from the three-point line. He was 0-of-7 from behind the arc in ASU's 83-82 victory over USC last week. 

ASU junior guard Shannon Evans only had nine points on the night, with the highlight of his night coming in a negative light. In only a nine-point game with 8:20 remaining in the second half, a technical foul was assessed on Evans. Evans had missed a layup on the other side of the floor and was clearly frustrated in not getting a foul call. It appeared he was yelling at Hurley on the other end of the court, but seemingly to the referee, he thought Evans was aiming his remarks elsewhere.  

"I didn't agree with the technical," Hurley said. "My player, Shannon, said he didn't say anything to the ref(free). He is allowed to communicate with me. I have one person saying one thing and someone else saying another thing."

The Sun Devils will now travel to Las Vegas to participate in the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday, March. 8. Despite the loss, ASU will be the No. 8 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament with Colorado’s win over California Saturday - barring a UCLA loss to WSU Saturday night. If WSU beats UCLA, then ASU will be the No. 9 seed.

With the win, the Wildcats improved to 27-4 overall and 16-2 in conference play. Arizona was coming off a 77-72 loss to UCLA at the McKale Center last Saturday, which had snapped a five-game win streak for the Wildcats. 

ASU lost both games this season to the Wildcats with its loss on Saturday. Arizona beat ASU 91-75 at the McKale Center on Jan. 12.

Arizona sophomore guard Allonzo Trier led the Wildcats with 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field, but was 8-of-9 from the charity stripe. Trier came into the game averaging 24.7 points per game while shooting 68.6 percent from the field, 64.7 percent from beyond the arc and 78.9 percent at the free throw line in his last three games.

While Arizona came out on top, neither team shot particularly well, with the Wildcats shooting 39 percent from the field and the Sun Devils shot 34.6 percent from the field. ASU once again struggled on the glass, getting out rebounded by Arizona 49-26 on the glass, 15-3 in offensive rebounding. 

"Overall we fought hard," Hurley said. "The offensive rebounds hurt us some in the second half. It's been a problem with our size."

In the first half, ASU was shooting 41.7 percent from the floor, while Arizona shot 11-of-32, 34.4 percent, from the field. Neither ASU or Arizona had a lot of success from beyond the three-point arc, with ASU shooting 4-of-11 and Arizona 2-of-10.

"They are a really good defensive team," Justice said. "They are long and active and they made us struggle a little and miss shots that we usually make, but I felt like we come out with our 'A' game on offense, we have a good shot to win this game."

Arizona was in foul trouble early with Lauri Markkanen, Arizona’s 7-foot big man, picking up his second foul with 16:37 left in the first half. ASU was in the bonus with just over eight minutes to go in the first half. However, the Sun Devils were unable to take full advantage of Arizona’s foul troubles, going 5-of-10 from the charity stripe in the first half. ASU finished 15-of-20 from the free throw line. 

ASU recorded its first lead of the game with 3:51 left in the first half, 26-25, after Graham hit his first three-pointer of the night. 

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