Arizona State fought hard and kept the score close for the first 30 minutes of the game, but the Wildcats clamped down on defense and held ASU scoreless for the final three minutes of the contest.
It wasn't just UA's strong effort on the defensive end of the floor that led to the victory. With the offense playing efficiently and taking care of the ball, there were numerous factors in Arizona's favor that came into play outside of its defense.
Mark Lyons: Lyons' play continues to be one of the biggest reasons UA is winning games. While he has been the subject of criticism at times this season, there isn't a chance the Wildcats would be 16-1 without him. He shows up when it matters most and he can score from anywhere on the floor. His 24 point effort against the Sun Devils is just the latest example of how important he is to this year's Wildcat squad.
The senior has scored in double figures in 13 out of 17 games this season and has surpassed the 20-point mark four times. To provide a little perspective, in the previous three seasons, Josiah Turner and Momo Jones combined for three 20-point games.
Defense: Arizona put together one of its better defensive efforts this season. The Wildcats hounded Arizona State shooters throughout the contest and were able to turn two of the Sun Devils' key contributors – Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski – into non-factors on offense for 40 minutes.
The perimeter defense was especially impressive for the Wildcats. ASU connected on just 25 percent of its shot attempts from beyond the arc and didn't get too many good looks at the basket from mid-range either. UA's pressure not only caused Arizona State's poor shooting effort, but also forced the Sun Devils into committing 17 turnovers.
Experience: UA looked like the much more polished team on Saturday and a lot of that can be attributed to the experience it possesses on the roster. The Wildcats' three top scorers – Lyons, Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill – have also been three of their most reliable contributors all season.
In the cases of Hill and Lyons, they have played in high-pressure situations in the past and that experience certainly helps in a hostile environment like the one they played in Saturday.
Confidence: From the moment Solomon Hill dunked the ball to score UA's first two points, it was obvious that Arizona knew it was the better team. While ASU hung around for a while, the Wildcats never seemed like they weren't sure of themselves. They held the mental advantage over the Sun Devils and it certainly played a factor in the outcome.
Coaching: Sean Miller did a better job than Herb Sendek did of keeping his team focused down the stretch. Arizona State had trouble getting anyone involved on offense outside of Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon, as the rest of the team struggled putting the ball in the basket. The lack of production from the rest of the supporting cast put a dent in ASU's chances, especially when Carson spent much of the contest in foul trouble.
Sendek ‘s squad sputtered down stretch, while Miller seemed to get the most out of his leaders during that time frame. The Wildcats' persistence on both ends of the floor finally allowed them to pull away in the final 10 minutes of the contest.