Phoenix native Channing Frye had a happy homecoming, scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds. He was the catalyst in the first half, scoring 17 points to pace the Wildcats. Frye was active on both ends of the court, playing good defense and swatting four Sun Devil shots.
"He wanted to prove a point, that he's the best big man in the Pac-10," Jason Gardner said of Frye's performance.
Luke Walton had a strong outing. With the student section riding him much of the game, the senior forward had one of his better performances of the season. He matched Frye with 23 points and 10 rebounds and had four assists.
Forward Rick Anderson led the Cats with 12 boards and had 19 points. Anderson had some trouble with Tommy Smith on the defensive end, but proved to be as big a problem for the Devil defense.
Both Smith and Diogu finished with double-figures points, but neither had an easy time doing it. The Cats limited their touches in the paint and the duo's 11 combined offensive rebounds were key in their scoring. Diogu finished with 15 pointsand 10 rebounds, while Smith had 18 and eight.
"We worked on that," Frye said of the team's defensive effort against ASU's post players. "We're used to playing bigger guys. We worked all week on denying them the ball."
Even more important was that the Cats kept the Sun Devils from beating them on the outside. ASU shot just 5-of-24 from behind the arc and could do little to force Arizona out of its effective 1-3-1 zone.
The Devils played aggressive defense but to no availe. Arizona was simply in a rhythm. The Cats turned the ball over 14 times, but shot 57.4%. The Wildcat perimeter players did a fantastic job at finding the open man and when one wasn't available, the Cats simply created their own shots.
Jason Gardner took just five shots and was all too happy to settle for passing the ball. Gardner dished out 10 assists and ran the offense effectively.
"That's why I think that Jason is the best point guard in college," Walton said of Gardner's selfless game "If he were on a lesser team he could be scoring as many points as anybody in the country but he's a winner and he wants to do whatever's best for the team and he's never going to go out there and force stuff just because he's not getting his."
Salim Stoudamire battled foul trouble, but still scored 11 and added four assists.
The Sun Devils were never able to consistently find a player to take the pressure off the post players. Jamal Hill and Curtis Millage were able to score in spurts, but mainly contributed during the few runs the Devils were able to string together. Millage especially, found it difficult, making just 5-of-16 from the field.
The team's traded buckets on the first possession, then the Devils went cold and the Cats capitalized. ASU failed to score on their next five possessions and Arizona responded with eight straight points to temporarily silence the capacity crowd.
But the crowd and the Devils would not be silenced for long. Jamal Hill came off the bench to hit a three-pointer and added five more points as the Devils climbed back. Kyle Dodd completed the comeback when his three tied the game at 17.
"Oh my gosh, it's so much fun," Frye said. "Even when we are close. We stepped up and played close to 40 minutes of basketball."
After the tie the Cats were able to lead for the next 4:00, with ASU chasing them the entire way. ASU finally took the lead, due in large part to Tommy Smith. The senior took advantage of the slower Anderson, twice driving to the bucket for easy lay ins. Smith gave the Devils their first lead when he scored his sixth consecutive point on a breakaway dunk.
The Wildcats, as if on cue, used a run late in the half to re-take the lead and even gave themselves a cushion before the recess. The Cats outscored ASU 14-6 over the final 3:15, including a Stoudamire runner just before the buzzer to put Arizona up 51-43 at the break.
The Cats held the Devils without a field goal for the first 5:48 of the second half, going on a 12-1 run and opening up a 63-44 lead. Gardner, who attempted just one first half shot, hit back to back mid-range jumpers to conclude the run. Walton added two driving buckets, while Anderson and Frye each contributed hook shots.
ASU was dazed, but recovered a bit. Diogu hit the club's first field goal of the half and the Devils responded by scoring 10 of the next 12 and cutting the lead to 11, 65-54.
The Devils could not get any closer and the Cats soon pulled out to an insurmountable lead. Even with several Wildcats in foul trouble, the Devils had no answer for the Arizona big men. The Cats dominated the final minutes of the game. Walton and Anderson picked up where Frye left off, scoring 17 of Arizona's final 21 points.
ASU had their fourth largest crowd in school history on hand. The sell-out crowd was mixed, but the rowdy student section rode the Wildcats the entire game.
"That's what makes college basketball so exciting," Walton said of the intense crowd, despite being the brunt of a number of taunts. The crowd brought bags of candy, a reference to the allegations of Wildcats taking candy in Lawrence. "It's kind of old, especially after nothing happened. You would expect them to get some new stuff to chant."
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