For the first time since the Western Kentucky game the Wildcats came out strong. They dominated the first 25 minutes of the game, keeping the low scoring Sun Devils off balance and out of synch.
"We need to start things good in the first half," Jason Gardner said. "We did that but we turned the ball over and had a bad second half." The visitors shot just 25% from the field and committed 11 turnovers in the first half. The Wildcats used a 1-3-1 zone defense to confuse the Devils. The defense allowed the Cats to double team Ike Diogu in the post while only giving the bad shooting Devils looks on the perimeter. The unusual zone, which hasn't been seen since Kenny Lofton was a Cat, allowed the speedy Gardner to run the baseline and cause havoc down low and in the corners.
The Cats limited Diogu to just three field goals and six turnovers. The freshman forward scored 15 points, but got nine of those at the free throw line.
"Nothing against Ike, but I felt like was motivated," said Channing Frye who scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. "All they talked about all wee was, ‘Ike this and Ike that.' Last year Isaiah and myself made a name for ourselves and here he is trying to take our throne so to speak."
The Wildcats won the battle in the post. In addition to Frye's 13points, Isaiah Fox added eight and Rick Anderson had nine. Foul trouble kept Tommy Smith from being a factor. The Sun Devil senior went scoreless and fouled out with 12:19 to play.
The second half saw the Wildcats struggle offensively, while coming back down to earth on the defensive end. They gave up just 43 points, but allowed ASU to climb back into the game as they shot just 39.3% and missed their first seven foul shots.
"We didn't come out with nearly the same intensity in the second half as we did to start the game," Luke Walton said.
It was the guards who sparked both teams. Jason Gardner found his shooting stroke and led the Wildcats with 19 points. ASU's Curtis Millage heated up in the second half and finished the game with 20 points, 14 coming in the second half.
Arizona got the fast start they had been looking for. The Cats used hot shooting and a stifling defense to jump out to a 17-5 lead. Frye and Walton keyed the fast start. Frye scored five and Walton added six points, while ASU mustered just two Curtis Millage buckets. Rick Anderson and Gardner added three pointers during the fast start.
The Cats continued shut down the Devils despite Diogu finally getting a few good looks. Four quick points by the talented freshman made it 19-11, but the Wildcats promptly went on an 11-3 run. Gardner added another three pointer and the second of Isaiah Fox's two buckets gave the Cats a 30-14 lead.
Arizona took its first 20-point lead with 2:45 left in the first half. A Walton three from the top of the circle gave Arizona a 38-18 advantage. Each club would add a bucket apiece before the half.
Arizona got the lead up to 26 before the Sun Devils used a 15-2 run to get within 13, 53-40. With Arizona in a 3:15 scoring slump, the Devils slowly built their run, taking advantage of tight officiating and the slashing ability of Millage. Millage had back-to-back buckets and added four more points during the run. The officials' decision to call the game close benefited the slower paced Sun Devils. Not only did it slow down the game, but the Devil went 7-of-8 from the stripe during the run. The Wildcats missed their lone attempt down the stretch.
"I think the refs controlled the game the way they wanted to control the game," Frye said of the officiating. "I can't really comment any more."
The Sun Devils remained hot, thanks in large part to Kenny Crandall. Three Crandall three-point shots lifted the Devils on an 11-2 run to climb within 5, 61-56.
The Devils could not get any closer. With the Wildcats finally hitting some free throws, they were able to keep the Devils at bay and come away with the win.
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