TEMPE — Mark Lyons made a name for himself in one of the country’s fiercest college basketball rivalries last season, but he didn’t really have a clue about this one really until Saturday.
After all, he’s from Schenectady, N.Y., and spent his first four years of college in Ohio. So what’s he supposed to know about Arizona-ASU?
“It wasn’t as big to me as much as it was for everybody else,” Lyons said. “I mean, I don’t have any tension with Arizona State or things like that. I just came to play the game.
Still, Lyons had plenty of motivation. Or at least he played like he did.
The former Xavier guard, who was suspended over his role in the infamous Xavier-Cincinnati brawl last season, may have heard that Arizona’s season all but died at ASU last March when the Sun Devils won 87-80.
And there’s no doubt that Lyons heard about that tweet that ASU point guard Jahii Carson sent out last month, declaring himself the best point guard in the Pac-12.
So Lyons went out Saturday and scored 24 points, with three assists, three steals and four turnovers in UA’s 71-54 win.
“Mark’s a competitor,” Solomon Hill said. “You get a young guy talking like Jahii Carson, and he’s going to want to go at him.”
When asked specifically about Carson’s boasting tweet, though, Lyons played it cool.
“I don’t want be the best point guard in the Pac-12,” Lyons said. “I want to be the best point guard in the country so I aim for the moon. If I miss, I’m still amongst the stars so I just try to go out there and play every game like it’s my last.”
While Lyons has made crucial plays to win games against Florida, San Diego State and Colorado this season, on Saturday he appeared to play with a last-minute intensity throughout.
The evidence was not only in his 24 points and his aggressive drives to the basket, but also in his team-high 6 for 6 free-throw shooting.
“He was aggressive throughout,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “He’s such an exceptional free throw shooter and that’s one of the weapons we have on offense.”
By helping keep ASU’s Carrick Felix to just five points on 1-of-8 shooting Saturday, UA freshman forward Brandon Ashley effectively raised the bar for himself on defense.
“Coach just told him that he was going to hold him to that standard every game now,” Hill said. “We were happy to see Brandon take the challenge head on.”
Considering his 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting and UA’s 17-point win, Nick Johnson undoubtedly had a better trip home than he did last season, when the Phoenix-area native had just five points in UA’s loss.
But when asked what he was most happy with personally on Saturday, Johnson first spoke of what he was able to do defensively.
“For me, (ASU forward Jonathan) Gilling really hurt us last year,” Johnson said. “I got that assignment tonight and tried not to give him many shots.”
Gilling hit 5 of 6 three pointers last season at Wells Fargo Arena but took only five shots Saturday, going 2 of 4 from long range with a total of six points.
His damage was minimal.
Johnson was “excellent,” Miller said. “A total game. And a game that he’s played quite a bit through our first 17 games of the season.”
• UA has now won four of its past five games against ASU.
• The Wildcats are 4-1 in true road games this season, with an average scoring margin of plus-12.6 in those games.
• Arizona is now 2-0 in blue road uniforms after shelving them following a one-point loss at Colorado last season until last Saturday at Oregon State.