Defense steps up: Wildcats shut down top shooter

Nick Johnson, Arizona's best defender for most of the season, had a major role in keeping Ian Clark, left, from heating up.


The three-letter phrase, deep down, must have taunted Arizona State's Ty Abbott on Sunday.

Multiple signs in McKale Center's Zona Zoo read "No Easy Buckets." Three students in the front row wore T-shirts with the phrase out front, a frown in the O of "no."

On the Arizona Wildcats-produced video montage explaining the rivalry, Kevin Parrom repeated the Twitter message he sent after last month's blowout win over ASU, when he was called for an intentional foul for hitting Abbott in the face as he drove for a layup.

"No Easy Buckets" had gained a life of its own.

Sunday, Abbott killed it. Stomped all over it - aided by a post-game fracas that saw Parrom, after making contact with Derek Glasser, sent to the locker room early like a punished middle schooler.

Were there easy buckets Sunday? It didn't matter. Abbott, guarded or not, made them. He scored 28 points to lead ASU to a 73-69, season-defining win over the Wildcats.

"Made every shot," UA coach Sean Miller said.

Almost. The 6-foot-3-inch swingman, who has yet to lose at McKale, made 11 of 17 field goals and 5 of 8 three-point attempts. The junior converted seven straight tries at one point.

"He made a lot of great shots, and he was set up for some really great plays," Miller said. "He is definitely responsible for their win. ASU was very smart to put him in the position to make those shots. We really had no answer for him."

Abbott scored eight of ASU's first 11 points but didn't add another until the 1:28 mark in the first half. He made a layup and a foul shot after being hacked by Solomon Hill to give ASU a 27-25 lead. With 25 seconds left, Abbott hit a three-pointer to make the halftime lead five.

Fearing it would mess up the team game, Abbott said he didn't ask for the ball when he was hot.

"I was able to get going," he said, "and get in a rhythm."

To start the second half, Abbott answered a Nic Wise three with one of his own, and then a Jamelle Horne three with another.

Abbott then scored ASU's next six points at critical moments. Twice, he made a basket to reclaim the lead after the Cats surged ahead. The third time, he broke a tie at 42.

He scored for the last time with 11:00 to go, before Jerren Shipp and Rihards Kuksiks helped seal the win.

"Ty just has had a terrific year," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. His teammates believe in him. He's just had tremendous focus."

Not all was his doing. Twice, the Wildcats double-teamed the offensive-challenged Eric Boateng, leaving Abbott open to make three-pointers. Other times, Abbott ran off screens with pinpoint timing.

The closest he came to controversy occurred when Abbott fouled a driving Kyle Fogg at 16:51. Fans hooted, but officials checked the replay and called it unintentional.

Did Abbott use Parrom's Twitter message as motivation?

"Ty's a tough kid," Glasser said. "He's not worried about that. I don't think it played any part in anything - other than the locker room or, 'Put it on the wall - see what he did.'"

Abbott said the win was crucial for the Sun Devils.

"It's just U of A/ASU," he said. "It feels good to be able to get that win, especially on the road."

And was it crucial for him, given all the drama from the last game?

"Same thing," he said smiling. "I've got that team mentality."