Column: Embrace the new Arizona and ASU basketball rivalry
This is what a college basketball rivalry is supposed to feel like.
For years, the Arizona and ASU rivalry has been a bloodbath on the gridiron and mostly an afterthought on the court. But for 40 minutes on a Saturday in December, it certainly didn’t feel that way.
A palpable buzz before the game began was followed by gut-wrenching twists and turns on both sides and ended where the Wildcats eventually wound up with a nail-biting 84-78 win over the No. 3 ranked and now, no-longer-undefeated, Sun Devils.
There were endless things to love about the game: the back and forth nature of play, the screaming fest between head coaches Sean Miller and Bobby Hurley as well as the end of game butterflies usually reserved for March.
Arizona and Arizona State lived up to the hype, and then some.
The matchup between the Pac-12’s best will be one for the record books. It was the first time that Arizona and ASU meet as ranked opponents since 1995 and it was also the first time that UA defeated the Sun Devils when both teams were ranked. The Wildcats had been 0-4 up until tonight.
Even without a student section, the McKale Center proved just how fearsome it can be. Heck, Deandre Ayton said he couldn’t even hear himself talk during a couple possessions. The atmosphere proved just how much this rivalry meant.
This game was a chance for the Sun Devils to escape the shadow of its cross-town rival and lay claim to the title of best team in the state and even the country. That shadow still remains but for those wondering if this loss will keep them down for long, here’s your answer: it won’t.
This year’s Arizona State team proved it can run with the best of them. It went into Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas and pulled off an upset over the No. 2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks. Less than a month later, it went into the McKale Center where Arizona has only lost twice in the last 79 games, and almost pulled off another unthinkable win.
With ASU head coach Bobby Hurley reeling in more high profile recruits and getting the most out of his players, it doesn’t seem like this rivalry is going away anytime soon.
So embrace it.
The Bruins of UCLA have been long been considered the true rival to the Wildcats in college hoops, but Arizona State is making strides to challenge that. The Duke’s and North Carolina’s of the world get to experience the madness twice a year, every year. And with the Pac-12 unbalanced scheduling, UA and UCLA won’t play twice a year, every year. UA and ASU will.
It will take time and consistency for the Arizona and ASU basketball rivalry to become a perennial heavyweight slugfest. At the start of the season, a rivalry this intense and worth watching seemed alien, even for television networks. Half the country (approximately) missed out on the dual in the desert thanks to the game being broadcast by the Pac-12 Network.
But life moves fast and the Sun Devils have positioned themselves as one of the best teams in college basketball. With a win over the Sun Devils, the Wildcats proved that they can be the type of team that many were expecting at the start of the year.
For 40 minutes, two teams provided a spectacle that has been missing for the last generation.
Save the date. On December 30th, 2017, a new rivalry was born.
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