TUCSON, Ariz. — No. 6 Arizona labored at times through its first three games, twice falling into early double-digit holes before rallying.
The Wildcats may have won, but coach Adia Barnes said they looked nothing like a Top 10 team despite their ranking.
They certainly did against their biggest rival.
Aari McDonald had 22 points and five 3-pointers and Arizona turned a rivalry game into a rout, jumping on Arizona State from the start in a 65-37 victory Thursday night.
“We played a good team game today,” Barnes said. “We shared the ball better, it was less sloppy offense, our bench did a good job, we were locked in defensively.”
The Wildcats (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) had to eke out a win over Southern California on Sunday, but were control from the opening tip against Arizona State (4-2, 1-2).
Arizona shut down the Sun Devils in the first half to lead by 16 and picked apart their zone defense with crisp passing to win its third straight in the series. The Wildcats have started conference play 3-0 for the first time since 2003-04.
McDonald, an Associated Press preseason All-American, shot 5 for 11 from 3, had seven rebounds and three assists in Arizona’s largest victory over Arizona State since 1998, when Barnes was a player.
“It’s a rivalry game and you always have that boost of motivation,” McDonald said. “We told the newcomers that, hey, this isn’t going to be a walk in the park. We’ve got to bring from start to finish and we did that.”
Arizona State struggled against Arizona’s aggressive man defense without assists leader Iris Mbulito, who injured her left shoulder against No. 11 UCLA on Sunday. The Sun Devils shot 27%, went 3 of 12 from the 3-point arc and had 23 turnovers that led to 24 Arizona points.
Taya Hanson led Arizona State with 14 points.
“Not a great for our young team and our first game without Iris,” Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We just struggled to communicate and play together. A lot of individual offense instead of team offense, which reflects in our shooting percentage.”
Arizona rose to its highest ranking at No. 6 in this week’s AP Top 25 after beating UCLA and holding off USC.
The Wildcats faced another tough game against an Arizona State team that won its first four games before losing by four to UCLA on Sunday.
Arizona was certainly ready for the young Sun Devils.
The Wildcats swarmed Arizona State’s shooters and the passing lanes in the first quarter, holding the Sun Devils to 4-of-16 shooting while forcing six turnovers. McDonald had eight points in the quarter and Arizona used a 12-2 run to lead 15-9.
Picking apart Arizona State’s zone, Arizona used a 10-0 run to push the lead to 29-11. The Wildcats led 34-18 at halftime behind McDonald’s 11 points.
“They’re good shooters and we knew 2 (McDonald) was going to be a threat for us,” Hanson said. “We could have done a better job of taking things away.”
Arizona State rallied from a 17-point deficit before losing to UCLA, but McDonald kept knocking down shots to prevent any thought of another comeback.
The senior guard scored nine quick points in the third quarter, including consecutive 3-pointers in 13 seconds to push the Wildcats’ lead to 46-23 — well on their way to another win over their rival.
“My teammates were finding me and once you see the ball go in, it gives you confidence, say ‘OK, let’s shoot another one, see if that goes in’” McDonald said. “It went in and I was just happy.”
So were the rest of the Wildcats.