Defense leads No. 3 Arizona to 67-56 win over Arizona State

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona is one of the best offensive teams in college basketball, top 10 in scoring, assists and tempo.

When the shots weren’t falling and the pace was getting frantic, the Wildcats turned to their defense.

Turns out they’re pretty good at that too.

Overcoming a shaky second game shootout, No. 3 Arizona increased defensive pressure in the second half to beat rival Arizona State 67-56 on Saturday.

“We’re a good defensive team and to be able to hang your hat on your defense in a stretch where your offense is struggling, it’s very important to compete for championships,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said.


The Wildcats (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) opened the game missing open shots all over the floor and clicked their first 14 attempts from the 3-point arc. Arizona shot 32 percent from the floor, went 3 for 23 of 3, and had almost as many turnovers (12) as assists (14).

The Wildcats managed to hold on despite their shooting setbacks and their defense carried them in the second half to remain undefeated (11-0) at home.

Bennedict Mathurin and Oumar Ballo led Arizona with 14 points each.

“To have a good offense, you have to have a good defense,” said Arizona’s Christian Koloko, who had 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. “Even if the shots don’t go in attack, you have to keep playing hard in defence.”

Arizona State (6-12, 2-6) was able to slow down one of the fastest teams in the nation and seemed to have the Wildcats on the ropes on several occasions. The Sun Devils continued to trail the cold-shooting Wildcats, then cooled to lose for the 11th time in 12 games at McKale Center.

DJ Horne led Arizona State with 15 points, but only got two in the second half.

“They’re a great defensive team and it definitely shows with their size,” Horne said. “It was tough to dig into some gaps and bounce back.”

The Wildcats got off to a slow start and had a rare mediocre shot in a 75-59 loss to No. 7 UCLA on Tuesday, shooting 31% and went 7 for 28 of 3.

The shaky shot continued early against Arizona State. The Wildcats missed their first eight shots and 10 of 11 to fall to a seven-point hole in the first seven minutes.

And they continued to miss, finishing the first half 7 for 29 while missing all 13 of their 3-point attempts.

The Wildcats still managed to tie Game 32 at halftime by hitting 18 of 21 free throws.

“It kept us in the game – we were freezing cold,” Lloyd said.

Arizona increased the defensive pressure in the second half and started hitting a few more shots. Kerr Kriisa hit Arizona’s first 3-pointer in 15 attempts and Pelle Larsson then banked a 3. Justin Kier scored on a play three-pointer to cap a 10-0 run that put Arizona ahead 60-48 with five minutes left.

The Sun Devils had chances to pull away.

A depleted Arizona State — seven scholarship players — got off to a fast start before fading in a 22-point loss to No. 15 Southern California on Monday.

The Sun Devils returned Kimani Lawrence against Arizona and got off to another fast start, building a seven-point lead and later an eight-point lead. Arizona State’s 11 turnovers in the first half, many of them in transition, kept Arizona trailing.

The Sun Devils reduced turnovers in the second half, but still struggled against defensive pressure from Arizona. Arizona State scored a field goal in 10 1/2 minutes as the Wildcats stretched their lead and shot 8 of 34 in the second half.

“In a game like this where the guys are really motivated to play and the crowd and everything, you can get a little shaken up,” Arizona coach Bobby Hurley said.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona State did the right thing against one of the fastest teams in the country, nearly locking out the game. Arizona’s defensive pressure in the second half proved too much, sending the Sun Devils to their fifth loss in six games.

It wasn’t always pretty, but Arizona found a way. Free throws kept the Wildcats in play in the first half and the defense unleashed their offense in the second to pull away.

KRIISA’S ELEVATOR

Kriisa gave Arizona a boost in the second half after a tough game.

The Estonian point guard went 0 for 12 against UCLA — nine of those 3-pointers — and opened Saturday’s game missing his first four shots. Kriisa kissed the logo on center court after hitting Arizona’s first 3-pointer and blew a kiss to the crowd after draining another.

FOLLOWING

Arizona State: Hosts USC on Thursday.

Arizona: Gets a rematch against UCLA at home on Thursday.

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