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January 19, 2013
Sure, the schools are in-state rivals, but it's mostly been a one-sided affair with the Wildcats owning a 142-80 advantage in the series. Also, the Sun Devils were picked to finish second-to-last in the Pac-12 Conference preseason media poll while the highly-touted 'Cats were tabbed the favorites.
In recent years, however, ASU has won seven of the last 11 meetings - including last season's regular-season finale, 65-63, at Wells Fargo Arena. As a freshman, Jonathan Gilling torched Arizona for five 3-pointers en-route to a career-high 21 points.
That last meeting still does not sit well with the returners for reasons that go beyond your standard rivalry game, Wildcats senior forward Solomon Hill said.
"Last year we were at a state it was do-or-die for us," said Hill, alluding to UA's slim NCAA tournament at-large hopes that were all but dashed. "We went up there, didn't have the right mindset.
"It shouldn't have to be like that. You should be able to take care of your business - probably drop a few games here and there - and still be able to lead your team to an NCAA tournament."
But there are plenty of new faces, particularly on the seventh-ranked Wildcats, who will experience the Duel in the Desert for the first time when the teams tip off at 12:30 p.m.
While seventh-ranked Arizona (15-1, 3-1 Pac-12) has the wins and national ranking, the team's play has been inconsistent of late, and more than a few games were not decided until the final minute. Meanwhile, coming off a 10-win season in 2011-12, ASU (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12) has exceeded early expectations and now has an opportunity to move ahead of their neighbors from the south in the standings - as well as make a statement to the rest of the league.
Among the featured battles will be between the dueling point guards - both of whom are newcomers. ASU redshirt freshman Jahii Carson missed last season's two matchups because he was academically ineligible, while UA senior Mark Lyons transferred from Xavier to fill a huge void and reunite with head coach Sean Miller and the staff.
Carson got a jumpstart on adding fuel to the rivalry when he declared himself the best point guard in the Pac-12 on Twitter, not long after Lyons and the Wildcats scored a win over San Diego State on Christmas Day.
But Hill said his teammate does not need much to get himself motivated. Earlier this season, Lyons said he relishes road games and the us-against-the-world mindset.
"That's internal," Hill said. "I'm pretty sure Mark is more geared up than anybody for this game."
The three Arizona freshman big men also will get their first taste of the series, including 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski. He will draw one of the bigger assignments in improved 7-2 center Jordan Bachynski, who ranks third in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage at 61.3 percent while averaging 10.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and a league-best 4.5 blocks per game.
Last season in a reserve role, Bachynski averaged six points, four rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a sophomore.
Miller said the "bigger concern" is Bachynski's impact on defense. Opponents are shooting just 38.4 percent, which ranks second in the Pac-12.
"Because they're playing man-to-man defense, he's much more of a rim protector than he would have been last year in their zone," Miller said. "And because of that he has a much stronger influence on the game. He affects shots and makes up for mistakes."