HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Tempe trips often trouble for Wildcats

2013-01-18T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Tempe trips often trouble for WildcatsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Arizona State is almost never what it seems, not in Tempe, not this time, not last time, not up there, no way.

"It is a game you fear," former UA assistant coach Phil Johnson said in 1994, after the No. 7 Wildcats famously lost to a Sun Devil team that was 14-12.

Do you fully understand that Arizona has lost in Tempe with teams whose game-day records were 19-3, 25-4, 9-2 and 13-4 and whose national rankings on those days were Nos. 5, 7, 9 and 10?

Have you forgotten that the Sun Devils overcame the Mother Of All Distractions in 1994, a steely, pre-week notice that the Nevada Gaming Commission was investigating ASU for potential point-shaving - and yet beat the Final Four-bound Wildcats, 94-87?

Do you recall that a year later, 1995, Damon Stoudamire swished a 23-foot jumper with six seconds left to give Arizona an apparent 55-53 victory? But that, before Stoudamire could stop smiling, an official took the points off the board and ruled that teammate Ray Owes called a timeout a fraction of a second before Damon drained the faux game-winner.

ASU held on to win 53-52.

Playing in Tempe is not identified by a singular description; it's not Pauley, Hec Ed, Maples, Haas, Harmon, Gill, Coors, Mac or any of the Pac-12's most feared venues, then or now.

But to Arizona it is positively terrifying because the favorite doesn't always win, and because the Sun Devils trot out heretofore unknowns like Wilfried Fameni, Brad Nahra and Antwi Atuahene, and suddenly you're thinking "how are those guys just killin' us?"

Never heard of 'em.

In 1992, No. 5 Arizona went to Tempe with a 19-3 record and nine straight victories. Lute Olson had a personal 11-game winning streak against ASU. He lost 77-74.

One of the more unfamiliar Sun Devils, guard Lynn Collins, who averaged 6.9 points that year, climbed onto the scorer's table at game's end, grabbed the live microphone and shouted "This is our gym!"

Sun Devil students mobbed the floor (as they would in 1994, 1995, 2002 and 2009) and Collins handed the microphone to coach Bill Frieder, who had stayed around to enjoy the celebration.

"This one's for you," Frieder cried.

How often do you see that? You see it in Tempe.

The UA-ASU game in Tempe is never on the national radar. Did you know that ASU has been ranked (on game day in Tempe) just once, 2009, when it was No. 14 and Arizona was coached by Russ Pennell?

By comparison, Arizona was ranked when it went to Tempe every year from 1988 to 2005, which is ridiculous and is likely never to happen again. Here are the numbers of those rankings, in order: 3, 6, 23, 6, 5, 11, 7, 9, 16, 7, 3, 7, 5, 8, 10, 1, 4, 9.

The Sun Devils were never ranked in that period, not on game day in Tempe. And yet they won four times and lost in dramatic finishes 74-71, 91-87, 71-69, 83-82, 74-73 and 70-68 when they didn't win.

Soak this in: When Saturday's game tips off, the Sun Devils will be 14-3. It is the best winning percentage they take into a UA-ASU game on their turf since 1981.

The UA-ASU game in Tempe is the best rivalry no one ever talks about. Here's what you need to know:

Anthony Cook was the UA's best player in Tempe, forever. In his final three UA seasons, he shot 22 for 26 afield (.846 percent) and averaged 17.3 points. Those three UA teams won by an average of 22.7 points per game.

Kyle Fogg replaced Cook and is now the UA's ranking Tempe Legend. Fogg scored 84 points in Tempe (21 per game), which was more than Sun Devil star Ike Diogu, 19.3, averaged. Diogu didn't ever beat Arizona on his turf, 0-3.

Eddie House scored 2,044 points as a Sun Devil. He led the Pac-10 in scoring one year with 23 points per game. But on his home floor, in Tempe, he was awful against Arizona. House scored 44 points in those four seasons and never beat Arizona there (or in Tucson).

Mario Bennett had a career-defining debut against Arizona, 1992, when he produced a 35-point, 11-rebound, six-block showing. But he still didn't outscore Mr. Fogg. Bennett finished with 83 career points, in Tempe, against Arizona.

In some ways, the UA owns Phoenix.

The Wildcats have gone 6-1 against ranked teams in the greater Phoenix area in that period. It beat No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 5 Illinois, No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 8 Oklahoma State, No. 21 Tulane and No. 21 Iowa in various made-for-TV or NCAA tournament games.

And just last March, interest from the Tempe side of the Territorial Cup series seemed to ebb. Only 7,864 showed up at Wells Fargo Arena, most of them Arizona fans. It was the smallest UA-ASU crowd in Tempe since the early '80s.

ASU was 9-20. Arizona was 21-9.

Yet the Sun Devils won 87-80, bumped Arizona off the NCAA tournament radar and re-stoked the rivalry.

This time ASU has a sleek and scary point guard, Jahii Carson. It has the Pac-12's most feared big man, Jordan Bachynski, and a wing player, Carrick Felix, whose scoring (15.1) and rebounding (8.1) averages are superior to everyone in an Arizona uni.

This could be the best ASU team Arizona has faced in Tempe for 32 years.

Where is Kyle Fogg when you need him?

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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