Downplaying the duel in the desert
Just another game for Hill and the Wildcats
The No. 7 Arizona men’s basketball team travels to Tempe to take on Arizona State University on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Arena, adding another chapter to the infamous Duel in the Desert rivalry. For senior Solomon Hill and the Wildcats, though, this year’s bout is nothing out of the ordinary.
“I feel like it’s just like every other game,” Hill said. “You can kind of say [we] have a rivalry game with every team that we play in the Pac-12, with Washington, Cal, every other team. We’ve all lost and won some games.
“I think they’re a good team. We’ll have to have a different mindset than we had last year. That’d be the only big difference.”
Last year, Hill and Arizona were fighting for a NCAA Tournament berth when they lost 87-80 in the final game of the season to the 10-win Sun Devils, all but eliminating the Wildcats from an at-large bid. Hill said their do-or-die mentality disrupted the team’s focus and resulted in Arizona’s falling to its less-talented rival.
In this chapter, the Wildcats (15-1, 3-1 Pac-12) enter as one of the top teams in the nation, but the Sun Devils (14-3, 3-1) have also improved.
ASU’s freshman point guard Jahii Carson is fifth in the conference in scoring and second in assists.
“It’s a big game for our fans and a huge game for our university, and we recognize that,” head coach Sean Miller said. “Every team seems to have that rivalry — Arizona State is ours.”
Tall task for Tarczewski
7-foot tall center Kaleb Tarczewski has been the biggest player on the court in every game. That’s about to change, as ASU’s junior center Jordon Bachynski brings two additional inches to the court, and the Canadian big man backs up his height with a knack for swatting shots.
“No question [Bachynski] is one of the best players in our conference and a big reason why Arizona State had such a successful first half of the season,” Miller said.
Miller added that Bachynski’s role has changed to more of a rim protector.
“Because of that, he has a much stronger influence on the game.”
Miller said. “He affects shots; he makes up for mistakes [defensively]. He’s a very talented player.”
Bachynski has flourished in his junior season. He’s averaging 4.47 blocks per game, leading the Pac-12.
Hill said he doesn’t want to take away from how Bachynski is playing this season, but that having a good shot blocker doesn’t differentiate ASU from other teams around the country.
“One thing we like to do is get bigs in foul trouble,” Hill said.
“So just attacking him, making him feel uncomfortable throughout the game, will be a big part of what we try to do.”
Hill said Arizona’s 7-footer needs to make himself available for dump-off passes when Bachnyski wanders out for a block. He’ll also need to post up and stay consistent on the glass.
His last responsibility, rebounding, isn’t something Miller is worried about.
“We are the best rebounding team in the Pac-12, both non-conference and in the conference,” Miller said. “It’s our team’s greatest strength [and Tarczewski] has been a big part of that.”
Heat rising in the Desert
While the Wildcats tried to downplay the intensity of the rivalry, ASU’s Jahii Carson threw fuel on the fire with his tweet claiming to be the best point guard in the Pac-12. Not surprisingly, Arizona’s Nick Johnson disagreed.
“Me personally, I think we have the best point guard in the Pac-12 on our team,” Johnson said, speaking of Wildcat senior Mark Lyons.
While age isn’t the determining factor in talent, Hill found it odd that the young guard would already be making such bold claims.
“(Carson) has a little bit of stuff to back it up, but it’s not like he’s played through the Pac-12 yet,” Hill said. “To say something like that is very strange.
“If he ran through the Pac-12 undefeated and put up 20 [points] a game, then that could be understandable from this point.”