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Foul trouble and poor shooting doom Arizona men's basketball in 72-64 loss against ASU

Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Chase Jeter (4) pushes through contact during the Arizona-Arizona State game on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Looking to build momentum heading into Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament, Arizona had the chance to send the McKale Center faithful and seniors Ryan Luther and Justin Coleman out in style against rival Arizona State. 

As was the story of much of its season, however, the Wildcats were plagued by turnovers and poor offense in a 72-64 loss, finishing the season 17-14 and 8-10 in conference as they head into next week’s Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 9 seed.

ASU point guard Remy Martin once again gave Arizona problems, finishing with 27 points and seven assists. The sophomore has combined for 58 points and 15 assists in the two games this season against the Wildcats. 

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“He’s an all-conference player,” head coach Sean Miller said postgame. “He can score. A lot of his baskets come early in the possession like a transition opportunity, and a lot of them kind of bail out Arizona State where he can score late in the possession. He can get his own shot and he can get other people their own shot.”

Tensions were high early on, with ASU freshman Luguentz Dort receiving a technical foul at the 14:47 mark after taunting Dylan Smith following a made basket. The two teams went back and forth, with ASU hitting 6 and Arizona 7 of their first 10 shots, respectively. The ‘Cats took their largest lead of the game at 21-15 with 11:41 left in the first half thanks to the play of Chase Jeter and Ira Lee, who combined for 11 of those 21 points. 

Arizona's Ira Lee (11) and Dylan Smith (3), celebrate teammate Ryan Luther's three during the Arizona-Arizona State game on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona had an almost nine-minute drought without a field goal that allowed the Sun Devils to even things up at 29, with the two teams going into halftime tied at 33 despite four ASU players and three Arizona players picking up two or more first half fouls, including three each on Dort and Brandon Williams.

Perhaps the turning point of the game came at the 13:18 mark of the second half, with Williams fouling out after being called for an offensive foul driving to the basket with the ‘Cats down 44-41. Miller said postgame it was a situation where sometimes you have to gamble, and it didn’t pay off.

“A lot of times in these types of games you have to play to win and roll the dice,” Miller said. “I gave him a clear-out play. My thought process was Dort on their end had three fouls, to be able to get a fourth on him that early could have helped us.”

ASU extended its lead to 52-44 on a Dort dunk, before a a 10-1 run capped off by a Coleman 3 put Arizona up 54-53 with 7:35 to go, the last time the Wildcats would hold a lead. 

Arizona's Justin Coleman (12) goes up for a floater during the Arizona-Arizona State game on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

With Coleman fouling out with 5:07 left to go, Martin took over. The sophomore scored 12 of the final 19 points for ASU to seal a victory, the first by the Sun Devils in McKale Center in the last eight games, and the first season sweep since 2008-09.

Arizona finished the game just 5-19 from 3 and had only 12 assists compared to 17 turnovers. Brandon Randolph and Luther each had 12 to lead the ‘Cats in scoring, with Jeter being the only other Wildcat in double figures with 11. ASU was led by Martin’s 27 points, with Dort scoring 15 on 6-11 shooting.

Although not the result Coleman and Luther wanted on Senior Day, the two don’t regret their decision to play their final season at Arizona.

“Being able to come here and play for Coach Miller and these guys and these fans, I’m just really thankful,” Luther said postgame. “Arizona is a special place.” 

Coleman added that he “gained brothers for life by joining this program.”

Arizona's Justin Coleman (12) and Ryan Luther (10) stand with their families as they are celebrated on senior night after the Arizona-Arizona State game on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona is now locked into an 8/9 matchup with USC in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday, a team that defeated them by 23 points when they met in January in Southern California. The Wildcats were without Jeter that game, a big reason why junior Nick Rakocevic had 27 points for the Trojans.

“I think they have two or three players on their team who are really, really good,” Miller said. “Bennie Boatwright is outstanding, Rakocevic is one of the most improved players in our conference. Obviously we would have to attack their zone and be successful on that end to be able to beat them.”

Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. Wednesday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on the Pac-12 Network, with the winner moving on to face top-seeded Washington.

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