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January 16, 2014

Top-ranked Arizona too much for rival ASU

By the time TV viewers on Fox Sports 1 were finished watching Providence take down St. John's in double overtime, Arizona had all but officially finished off Arizona State.

Well, it was only the first half, but the Wildcats showed no signs of letting up against the in-state rival Sun Devils. UA led by 14 at the break, had a season-high seven players score in double figures and the No. 1 team in the country cruised to a 91-68 victory Thursday night at McKale Center.

"I was really happy with the way we played the game tonight," UA head coach Sean Miller said.

"We were ready to play the game. We played with great effort and we played a very unselfish game on offense."

The Wildcats (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12 Conference), who extended the best start in program history, are now a win shy of tying the school record for consecutive wins. The feat was last achieved during the 1992-93 season.

Nick Johnson led Arizona with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting - including three of the team's eight 3-pointers. Aaron Gordon added 16 points and six rebounds for Arizona, which shot 60.6 percent in the second half and was never threatened.

The only thing missing in the opening half was the routine Gordon highlight, and he provided that after the break on an out-of-bounds lob play. The Wildcats scored 12 of the first 15 points in the second half, capped by Gordon's dunk to push the lead to 23, and they rolled the rest of the way.

"We're living our dreams right now," Johnson said of the winning streak, "Being the No. 1 team in the country, you've got the target on your back every single game but we take that as a challenge."

But the target was never locked in for ASU (13-5, 2-3 Pac-12).

The Sun Devils never had a second-half push and shot just 34 percent from the field. Jahii Carson led all players with 20 points but struggled mightily to start, converting just 7 of 19 shot attempts.

Center Jordan Bachynski was never a factor, missing all three of his field goals and finishing with as many fouls (3) as points.

"That was my goal," said primary defender and UA center Kaleb Tarczewski, who countered with 12 points and eight boards.

The Sun Devils also had just seven assists while the Wildcats had eight different players break into the assist column and finished with 21. A team that prides itself on balance was functioning at its best, and not even a full-strength ASU may have been able to slow UA down.

The trouble started before the game as Jermaine Marshall was ruled out with a groin injury prior to tipoff. Without ASU's second-leading scorer, the rout was on early.

"I'm not surprised at all," ASU head coach Herb Sendek said of Arizona. "I've watched them on tape, I've seen them play on television. You look at the results they are posting night in and night out, it wasn't a surprise only a confirmation."

The Wildcats jumped out to their first double-digit lead with 12 minutes left in the half as Gabe York's 3-pointer made it 17-7. The Sun Devils ran into problems early on the other end, converting just two of their first 12 shots.

Among the struggles was an 0-of-6 start for Carson, including an airball and a blocked shot by T.J. McConnell. The UA point guard then continued his hot shooting from the 3-point line, where he tied a career high with five baskets Sunday at USC.

The Duquesne transfer's first 3-pointer with 10:02 left in the first half highlighted a 20-5 run.

"I kind of feel like people don't respect my shot," said McConnell, who finished 2 of 3 from beyond the arc and chipped in 10 points to go with six assists and three steals.

During that rally, ASU missed seven consecutive shots and did not end the seven-minute-plus drought until Carson's layup with 7:36 left until halftime.

By that point, however, the Sun Devils, who converted just 6 of 26 shots in the half, trailed by 16.

Johnson answered with a 3-pointer, putting him in Arizona's 1,000 career points club. He is the 48th player in school history to reach the milestone.

"It feels good to just be in that type of category here at Arizona," Johnson said.

The basket was one of five 3-pointers in the half for UA, which made half of its 28 total shots from the floor. The Wildcats led by as 21 in the opening 20 minutes and took a 42-28 advantage into the locker room.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson finished with 11 points while York and Brandon Ashley scored 10 apiece to round out the double-figure balance.

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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