The Devils come into the game as winners of four of their past five while the Wildcats have lost three of their previous four. With all the movement in the conference standings, this game is has huge implications for both squads – for ASU, a win would put them in the driver's seat in the Pac-10 with large games against Cal and USC looming but more importantly; they would inch ever closer to the Tourney Bubble.
For U of A, the only way they have any chance of making it 26 straight NCAA Tournament appearances is to keep winning and take the Pac-10 tournament.
The first meeting this season between these lovebirds was a disaster for the hosts. ASU was outplayed in every facet and got beaten 77-58 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score dictated. It was Sean Miller's first taste of the rivalry and he had a great game plan that diffused ASU's zone and kept the Devils on their heels. The game was given a little extra substance when UA frosh Kevin Parrom bludgeoned Ty Abbott in the 2nd half to flare some tempers on both benches.
G/F – Kevin Parrom – (4.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG) vs. Ty Abbott (11.9 PPG, 43% 3PT)
It's possibly the last time the Devils will get to see Nic Wise; one of the most explosive players UA has had in years. The exciting playmaker has flair for the dramatic evidenced by two game-winning shots this year already and the guy who gets the ball when the Cats need a score. Next to him in the backcourt is the ever-improving Kyle Fogg. Both players can run the point and both can take it to the rack. Off the bench are Momo Jones and Brendan Lavender. Jones has played very well as the season has progressed and could be an impact player.
The timing could not be more crucial for Derek Glasser to have rediscovered his form. After a slump that extended most of the Pac-10 season to date; Glasser picked up his game at home against the Oregon schools and will now look to continue to regain his rhythm as the season winds down. Next to Glasser are McMillan and Abbott. McMillan's impact is unquestioned and it should be noted that he was injured and didn't play in the first meeting. Abbott scored 10 points in the first meeting but as the most explosive offensive option for ASU, he will need to really pick it up in this one. Off the bench will be Trent Lockett and Demetrius Walker.
Edge – ASU
They say that games are won and lost in the trenches. For the Wildcats, the play of Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne is the reason they blew ASU out in the first meeting and the reason they have surprised many to be in the upper echelon of the Pac-10 this season. Williams is arguably the best post player in the conference next to Washington's Quincy Pondexter and would not be missed if he decided to jump to the NBA after the season! Horne has matured and improved as a player over the past few seasons and his inside-out game could spell trouble for ASU. Solomon Hill and Kyryl Natyazhko spell relief for UA.
As March approaches and the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders, there are no more excuses for ASU's inside game. Eric Boateng has steadily improved in recent weeks but Rihards Kuksiks has been totally MIA and his presence on the floor has to matter for ASU to stand a chance. Ruslan Pateev, Taylor Rohde, and Jerren Shipp are all candidates to get minutes off the bench.
Edge – Arizona
Jamelle McMillan. After missing significant time with Plantar Fasciitis, McMillan's return has brought a more consistent balance to both ends of the floor and the game could swing on his impact. In the first meeting between these two teams, McMillan sat on the bench and watched the Wildcats shoot over 50% from the field and held Trent Lockett, his replacement in the lineup, to just two points. McMillan could be the difference the Devils need to take the rivalry game.
Who Will Win and Why
After a 19-point rout on the road, it's hard to imagine that the Cats don't have a ton of confidence riding into Sunday's battle but ASU is healthy and has a lot to play for. I wouldn't be surprised if ASU can make it three straight wins at the McKale Center.
ASU 65 Arizona 58