UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: A matter of importance

Coaches know rivalry means a lot but needs to be kept in context
2013-01-19T00:01:00Z 2013-01-19T12:12:17Z Arizona basketball: A matter of importanceBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 19, 2013 12:01 am  • 

Wells Fargo Arena is sold out today, so that's one piece of evidence.

Then there's the fact that 14-3 ASU is much improved from the team that essentially knocked Arizona off last season's NCAA tournament bubble with a win in Tempe. There's also the fact that Arizona is ranked seventh, with a 15-1 overall record and 3-1 mark in Pac-12 play that ties the Wildcats with … ASU.

So is today's ASU-UA game really big? Maybe as big as ASU coach Herb Sendek and UA's Sean Miller have seen in the intrastate rivalry?

Not entirely.

"I guarantee you that whatever the next game is, that's always the biggest game, and you always give everything you have," Sendek said. "So that wouldn't even be possible."

Miller wasn't singling the game out, either, other than to nod toward the emotional impact of the intrastate rivalry.

"It's a big game for our fans, it's a huge game for our university, and we recognize that (that's the case) whether it be with a former player or somebody who went to Arizona 20 years ago," Miller said. "Every team seems to have that rivalry. Arizona State is ours.

"The thing you can control is to be as ready as you can, to play the very best that you can, and hopefully you have an opportunity to win. … The bigger picture is to have a successful season and, in our case, hopefully compete for a conference championship and really go on to do some great things while recognizing that this is an important game."

In other words, for the two coaches involved, the focus is on the court, as usual.

Here are three things they will probably look at today:

1. If Arizona can tailor its offense around Jordan Bachynski. ASU's 7-foot-2-inch center has 76 blocks this season, and ASU has redesigned its defense to better utilize his skill.

Not only do the Sun Devils now run a man-to-man defense, freeing Bachynski from the responsibility of covering a corner in the ASU matchup zone, but they also set screens designed to funnel opponents toward him in the middle.

Miller said Bachynski can cause the same type of trouble UA ran into last week at Oregon, when Ducks center Tony Woods and Waverly Austin blocked a combined four shots that helped fuel Oregon's fast break.

"You just have to be aware on drives because if you challenge him, it can lead to an easy transition opportunity," Miller said. "A lot of times a strong drive has to be met with a pass, and as we attack the basket, use shot fakes and take what the defense gives. That's all very important. I think every team that plays against them probably starts with that."

UA associate head coach James Whitford said matching up Bachynski at times with a shooter could help, while UA forward Solomon Hill said UA center Kaleb Tarczewski needs to be able to convert quickly to an offensive rebounding position in case Bachynski does swat one away.

2. If the Sun Devils and freshman guard Jahii Carson can be slowed. As he promised Carson when he signed him in the fall of 2010, Sendek has re-engineered the Sun Devils offense to better take advantage of his electric point guard.

ASU is averaging 72.6 points per game but only 64.2 in conference play.

"He's the throttle of ASU," Miller said of Carson.

"It starts with him because when he has a big game, it usually means everyone has a big game because he has such a knack for getting in the lane and making big plays for himself and other people."

3. Who wins the battle outside the arc.

Arizona's trip to Oregon last weekend was only too typical of the Wildcats' inconsistent three-point shooting defense this season: They allowed Oregon to make 7 of 11 three-point attempts in the Ducks' 70-66 win but held OSU to 5 of 15 from long range in UA's 80-70 win.

Hill said the Wildcats lacked intensity in their perimeter defense at OSU, and ASU is not the kind of team they want to let down against. Three Sun Devils starters have averaged at least 1.4 made threes a game: wings Evan Gordon and Carrick Felix, plus power forward Jonathan Gilling.

"Coach Miller has really stressed our three-point defense as of late; it feels like we've gotten away from it," guard Nick Johnson said. "We definitely look at them as being a threat. We're trying to get better at it, and knowing their personnel."

While Gordon is a transfer from Liberty that the Wildcats have yet to face, and while UA will have to adjust to Felix's improved game, the Wildcats are already familiar with Gilling.

Although Gilling is hitting only 34.5 percent from three this season, he's the guy who hit 5 of 6 threes against Arizona last year in Tempe.

"Gilling almost singlehandedly beat us at Arizona State," Miller said. "We respect him and all of their players."

Today

• What: No. 7 Arizona at ASU

• When: 12:30 p.m.

• TV; radio: FSAZ; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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