After dropping out of the rankings completely less than a month ago, the University of Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team is back among the top 15 teams in the United States, according to the Associated Press’ (AP) Top 25 rankings.
The Wildcats moved up to No. 14 on the list after a huge win on Saturday against in-state rival Arizona State, who were previously number three in the country. Behind 23 points and a career-high 19 rebounds from Bahamian freshman sensation DeAndre Ayton, who was named as the player of the week by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) yesterday, the Wildcats edged the Arizona State Sun Devils, 84-78, as Pac-12 Conference play got underway. Ayton made 9-of-14 shots, including a crucial tip-in with 11 seconds to go, and his 19 rebounds eclipsed his previous career-high of 18, against Alabama two weeks ago.
Arizona withstood a 31-point performance by Tra Holder of the Sun Devils.
Following the game, Ayton said he was glad his team was able to keep Arizona’s win streak intact against Arizona State. The Wildcats have now won eight straight. Ayton said that the size advantage he had on the inside against Arizona State was the key to the victory. Ayton was a handful for Arizona State’s Romello White, who took just two shots and scored two points with eight rebounds. The Wildcats beat the Sun Devils at home in Tucson, Arizona, for the eighth straight time.
“I would say they’re undersized big men, so I took advantage on both ends of the floor. It was intense. It was nice,” said Ayton.
The Wildcats went up by 12, 62-50, with 10:53 remaining, but went cold down the stretch. Arizona State went on an 11-2 scoring run to get back in the game. Tra Holder’s baseline floater after an Arizona turnover cut the Wildcats’ lead to one, 64-63, with 7:59 left in the game.
With 1:19 to go, Ayton tipped in Allonzo Trier’s missed lay-up to give the Wildcats a four-point lead, 80-76. Holder hit two free throws that brought them to within two, 80-78, before Trier’s two from the free throw line sealed the deal.
The Wildcats have won eight straight games since going a winless 0-3 at the Bartle 4 Atlantis Classic in The Bahamas in November. Ayton has averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds during the run and is averaging 19.7 points, 12 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 blocks per game this season. The Wildcats also defeated No. 7 Texas A&M 67-64, in the third game of the streak.
The Wildcats held Arizona State to just 38 percent shooting in the game and just 3-of-15 from behind the three-point line. The Sun Devils entered the game shooting 51 percent overall from the field and 40 percent from long-range.
The Wildcats will be in action again on Thursday, against Utah.