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Arizona is back on the road for the first time since losing its first game of the season at California on Feb. 1. Since, the Wildcats have won a couple home games, looking close to normal in their 22-point win against Oregon State.
Arizona State has been consistent at home, winning five straight, but most of those wins haven't been too convincing. In their last two wins, the Sun Devils needed overtime to beat Oregon State and just beat Oregon by two points on Saturday.
The last time these teams played, it wasn't much of a contest with the Wildcats taking an early 35-14 lead and never looking back. Of course, Brandon Ashley played in that game while Jermaine Marshall missed out due to a groin injury so things may be a little different this time around. Not only because it's in Tempe, but also because Ashley is out for the season and Marshall is playing great for ASU. This will be Zona's third game without him Ashley.
Even with Ashley, the Wildcats weren't exactly dominating teams on the road, with a three-point win at Stanford and four-point win at UCLA. While they dominated this matchup last time around, the second result should be a lot closer.
Looking at the Sun Devils, they were at a major disadvantage from the start in that first game as Marshall (15.6 PPG) is their second-leading scorer. Brandan Kearney had to start in that first game against Arizona and he averages just 1.8 PPG. Marshall is joined by Jahii Carson (19 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.7 APG) in the back court, who has carried this team for the entire season. Carson had 20 points in the first matchup. Those two will cause plenty of problems going against T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson of Arizona. The Arizona guards combined for seven fouls in that first game, and with Marshall back, it could be a problem in this game due to Zona's lack of depth.
Down low the Wildcats obviously have the advantage even without Ashley. Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski will be a handful for the Sun Devils. Arizona State really didn't have an answer for them in the first game as Jordan Bachynski (12.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG) was eaten alive and only put up three points and six rebounds.
Even without Ashley, the Wildcats have plugged freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the lineup and he's taken it in stride. In the last two games, Hollis-Jefferson has 30 points and 15 boards, which is great news for a guy that has averaged 8.5 PPG and 5.6 RPG for the season. The problem for the Wildcats is on their bench where RHJ used to be. Elliott Pitts, who only averages 6.7 minutes per game at the moment, has become the seventh man off the bench. He and Gabe York need to provide valuable minutes for Arizona.
In the end, it's hard to put much stock into the last game as both rosters are a bit different. With Marshall in the game, it could also open things up more for Bachynski down low on the offensive end.
As for the Wildcats, it's a given that Johnson and Gordon will be factors, but how much? Gordon had just six points and eight boards in the win against Oregon, while Johnson shot 1-for-14 in the loss to California. If one of those guys struggles, it will fall to Hollis-Jefferson to continue his run or even McConnell, who isn't really known as a scorer. Expect a close game in this one, much different than the last meeting.
Predicted Score - Arizona 73 Arizona State 63
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