Arizona beats ASU 51-39 in physical, emotional Territorial Cup matchup
Being near the people closest to you is what the holidays are all about. Love them or hate them, they are the people placed in your life you simply cannot ignore — no matter how hard you try.
For Arizona and Arizona State, the holidays meant time spent with the closest enemy each team has right before the new year, allowing for one more neighborly scrap before cleaning the slate and jumping into 2019.
The scrap was exactly that, a backyard brawl that tested both teams toughness and tenacity more than their abilities to pass and shoot.
The Wildcats bested the No.17 ranked Sun Devils 51-39 in front of the biggest McKale Center crowd of the season with 5,006 in attendance. The unranked Wildcats came into the matchup with some serious questions due to strength of schedule, and they answered most of them Sunday night.
“I have a plan,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “And if we were getting crushed in the non-conference, we don’t play like this. It was about us in the non-conference. We played some pretty good teams, didn’t play any ranked teams, and it was apart of the plan because we are about to play eight ranked teams in the next two months.”
The plan to boost Arizona’s confidence came to fruition Sunday night, and nobody embodied that quite like Arizona’s sophomore dynamo Aari McDonald.
McDonald scored 15 of her 24 points in the first half, acting as a one-woman attack as she darted and dashed past Sun Devil defenders throughout the night.
“She’s dynamic and hard to guard,” Barnes said. “I don’t know anybody in the country that can guard her off the dribble.”
McDonald ended the night shooting 9-17 from the field, and 6-7 from the charity stripe. McDonald not only set the pace on offense, her pressing and on-ball defense had ASU unsettled from the opening tip.
“They were ranked and I definitely think this win proves that we can do some big things in the conference,” McDonald said.
The Sun Devil’s couldn't get anything going all game against the physical Wildcats, falling prey to a Wildcat full court press and 2-3 zone that Arizona came prepared with. ASU shot 22 percent on the night, making just 13 of their 56, and shooting just 4 for 23 from three.
The ranked Sun Devil’s looked anything but, at times looking more like the team that hasn’t been challenged by college basketball’s elite.
“We have confidence, we are on a 10-game winning streak, and we are playing some good basketball,” Barnes said. “That’s where I wanted to be, and tonight showed me where we are at and what are weaknesses are. We played a really good defensive team and we played really good defense. So it shows me that we have a chance to be one of the better defensive teams in the conference, or we have a chance to be, and now we just have to sustain that.”
For an Arizona program that suffered three losses at the hands of the Sun Devil’s, this win means a little more than the other 10 so far.
“I’m just so happy right now” said sophomore Sam Thomas, who pitched in 11 points of her own. “It's just great to secure a win against our rivals to head into the new year so we can get better and better.”
Arizona goes on the road to Colorado and Utah next weekend for their first conference road trip. Seeing how the Wildcats passed their first challenge, the next one looks promising.
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