Rivalry week is intense.
Kansas State shocked Kansas on Monday, Michigan took down Ohio State on Tuesday and Duke and North Carolina were set to battle on Wednesday night before Mother Nature intervened. The next big rivalry game on the docket is No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State on Friday night.
Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., will host the in-state rivalry known as the Territorial Cup Series on February 14 and it's safe to say that even though it is being played on Valentine's Day, there is no love lost between the two teams.
What seems to be more compelling is that the game is being played on Arizona Statehood Day and will be nationally broadcast on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton on the call.
The teams met on January 16 in Tucson and it was a blowout from the opening tipoff. The Wildcats took an early 26-8 lead and led by as many as 24 in the second half before capping a 91-68 victory.
Arizona (23-1, 10-1 Pac-12) leads the series 145-80 and has won 31 of the past 39 matchups between the teams. Arizona State (18-6, 7-4 Pac-12) has tried its best to keep the rivalry competitive by winning seven of the past 14, but have lost the last three.
The Houston Rockets' James Harden, he of the massive beard, propelled the Sun Devils to five straight victories over Arizona in 2008 and 2009. The Wildcats' longest streak is at 17 games (1945-52) while the Sun Devils' winning streak best is 15 (1958-64).
Friday night's game will be markedly different from the last time the teams met due to a personnel change for both teams. The Wildcats will be without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the team's lone loss against Cal. The Sun Devils will also have senior guard Jermaine Marshall in the game, who missed the January 16 game in Tucson.
It appears that the Wildcats are still adjusting to the loss of Ashley while the Sun Devils seem to be on a tear as of late due to the huge plays of center Jordan Bachynski.
Bachynski was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after a home sweep of the Oregon schools in which he averaged 21.5 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks. Bachynski also became the Pac-12 record holder for career blocks at 279—and added nine more on Saturday for good measure.
Can the loss of Ashley and the addition of Marshall swing the pendulum back to Arizona State? Wells Fargo Arena has had a raucous atmosphere this season for Arizona State.
It makes it so much more fun to play when it’s loud. When we make a big play and the whole arena explodes, it is such an amazing feeling, and I love it," Bachynski said in the Oregon post-game press conference. "I am so grateful that we have the fans that we do that are coming out and being loyal and staying the whole time and just doing—no other word for it, just a phenomenal, a great job. It’s fun to play in.
Arizona's stout defense will have much to say about keeping Bachynski, Marshall and point guard Jahii Carson in check. The Wildcat defense ranks seventh nationally in field-goal percentage defense and fourth in scoring defense. The lane is sacred to Arizona and it leads the nation in two-point scoring defense, holding teams to 40.7 percent inside the arc.
The Sun Devils are 13-1 at home this year and 29-5 in the past two seasons at Wells Fargo while the Wildcats are 7-1 in games away from Tucson this season and hold a Pac-12-best 29 true road game victories since the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
Something has to give and 14,198 people will be in Tempe on Friday night while countless others across the country will watch it unfold.
David A. Bowers is a featured columnist for Arizona Men's basketball and Arizona State Athletics. Follow him on Twitter here.
*Unless otherwise noted, quotations obtained first-hand.
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