TEMPE — The last time Arizona State squared off against the Wildcats, the Sun Devils had to fend off Arizona’s massive front-court.
They tried, at least.
Arizona won 91-68 in mid-January at McKale Center as seven players scored in double-figures, including four post players.
The loss of Brandon Ashley this time around leaves the Wildcats a man down, though Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has filled in admirably.
“(Ashley) is a terrific player, and any time you lose a guy like that, it’s a tough blow,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “If any team can absorb that kind of loss, it’s Arizona.”
Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds since Ashley went down against Cal, and the Arizona defense doesn’t look like it’s skipped a beat.
“They really are as hard to score against as any team I’ve encountered in some time,” Sendek said. “They have a way of swallowing you. You have to work for your first good shot and hope it goes in. They’re one team when you’re watching them warm up, you do a double-take.”
Jordan Bachynski hasn’t just blossomed into the Pac-12’s best shot-blocker and become an able scorer for the Sun Devils, he has turned Jahii Carson into one of the premier rebounding guards in the country. Carson is averaging 4.8 rebounds in conference games, including his 12-board performance against Oregon on Saturday.
“When Jordan boxes his guy out like that, I have more opportunities to rebound,” Carson said. “He keeps doing it; I think I can too.”
With Jermaine Marshall healthy and integrated into the offense, with a recent run of three straight 20-point games, and Carson steering the wheel as he always has, the Arizona State offense is playing some of its best ball of the season.
The maturation of Bachynski, however, has added another presence to the Sun Devils. The 7-foot-2-inch center had 43 combined points in wins over Oregon and Oregon State last week, and for his efforts, he took home conference Player of the Week honors.
“Right now the big fella is eating,” Carson said. “He’s a presence down there. We’re focused on getting it inside-out the last couple games. Once everybody gets connected like how we’re connected, it’s hard to beat us.”
Friday night’s matchup will pit two of the best backcourts in the country against each other: ASU’s Carson and Marshall against Arizona’s Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell.
“They’re pretty good, but I think we’re pretty good too,” Carson said. “They have to guard us as well. Last time, I had one of my running mates out, but this time we’re going to come full (throttle) for them and see how they defend us this time.”
The point guard matchup between Carson and McConnell is particularly intriguing, as both are adept players but with different styles.
“Both young men are outstanding players having very good years,” Sendek said. “For Jahii, we rely on him to do so many things, and I think McConnell in a lot of ways for them is the hub of their wheel.”