Wildcats are prepared for a possibly wet valentine
Sparky, the ASU mascot, holds Wilbur from his pitchfork. Recently, ASU fans have become more aggressive towards UA students at basketball games.
During Arizona’s game at ASU on Friday, the Sun Devil basketball team won’t be the only challenge facing the Wildcats at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz.
The ASU fans and student section are expected to fill the arena with distracting noises and comments.
“It’s obviously our biggest rival, so it’s a ‘bigger game,’ in a sense, to all the fans,” junior guard Nick Johnson said.
The Territorial Cup basketball game comes just six days after Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish and athletic trainer Clay Jamieson reported being spit on by an ASU student.
Sun Devil fans also had verbal confrontations with Duck players during the game.
“When you go on the road, you really only have each other,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said.
Miller puts the responsibility of keeping the team focused in hostile environments into the hands of the upperclassmen who have grown into the Arizona basketball program.
In his Tuesday afternoon press conference, he singled out Johnson as one of the Wildcats who embodies what Miller calls the “All In” slogan.
“With ‘All In,’ there’s a code of ethics and responsibility that you have in place to be a member of our basketball program,” Miller said.
He added that the basketball program’s culture promotes personal growth and learning from mistakes.
Miller didn’t appear too concerned that an incident would arise Friday, adding that he has never had a problem with ASU placing the opposing team’s tunnel directly next to the ASU student section. Oregon head coach Dana Altman said security should be increased after the Ducks’ 74-72 loss in Tempe, Ariz.
But that doesn’t mean emotions won’t run high.
“There’s always going to be at least one fan that is going to try and get inside your head,” freshman Elliott Pitts said. “It’s always been easier for me to try and focus on the game and not the fans.”
The spitting incident at Wells Fargo Arena on Feb. 8 wasn’t the only fan and player interaction that day in college basketball. A few hours later in Lubbock, Texas, Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart pushed a Texas Tech fan after the fan allegedly yelled a racist slur toward Smart.
The then-No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys would eventually lose to the unranked Red Raiders, their fourth loss in a row.
Smart, the Cowboys’ leader, was given a technical foul during the game and has since been suspended for three games by the Big 12 Conference. Oklahoma State had high aspirations for this season but will now be lucky if it can just save face.
The Wildcats have already lost one of their leaders in Brandon Ashley to a season-ending foot injury. Ashley had surgery performed yesterday on his foot.
A loss to rival ASU on Friday wouldn’t be the end of the world for Arizona, but losing another key player to suspension could crush any regular season, Pac-12 Conference title hopes.
“Pretty much every player has been through a thing like [Smart and Oregon have been through],” Johnson said. “It comes down to being responsible and representing your program.”
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella