TEMPE, Ariz. – Azuolas Tubelis scored 21 points, Oumar Ballo had 12 points and 12 rebounds, and No. 5 Arizona withstood a second-half comeback by Arizona State for a 69-60 victory Saturday.
Kerr Kriisa had 12 points and five assists for the Wildcats (13-1, 2-1 Pac-12), who won their fifth straight in the series. They entered averaging 90.2 points per game, second in Division I. Neither team shot better than 40% from the floor.
“We’re going to be a great defensive and rebounding team,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I’m making no druthers about that. I don’t care what our offense is ranked. We play to get the result.”
The Sun Devils (11-3, 2-1) scored 19 of the first 23 points of the second half after going to a full-court press and cut a 45-28 halftime deficit to 49-47 with 13 minutes left. Lloyd did not call a timeout during Arizona State’s big run, and when it was over, Arizona responded with a 10-3 run to regain control.
“We lacked composure for a certain stretch, and I wanted our guys to figure it out,” Lloyd said. “There is a reason you try to build a lead in the first half, especially on the road. You have to try to stretch it out, because you know they are going to make that run. It’s about winning the game. It is not about who makes a run in the first half or a strong run in the second half. It’s finding a way to close out and win the game, and our guys did the job.”
Frankie Collins had 12 points to lead Arizona State and Devan Cambridge added nine. Leading scorer DJ Horne was held to seven points and was 3 of 11 from the floor. Arizona had a 44-36 rebounding edge and shot 37.7% from the floor. The Sun Devils shot 36.2%.
“They are so aggressive and scrappy,” Lloyd said. “Their ball pressure was tremendous. They did a really good job being active. We have to toughen up a little bit and find different ways to attack it.”
The Wildcats made 24 of 28 free-throws attempts. Arizona State was 7 of 10. The Sun Devils missed their first 13 3-point field-goal attempts and were 3 of 27 from behind the arc.
“I mean, it’s crazy,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “They’re a top-five team in the country and beating some really good teams, and we lost by nine and went 3 for 27 from 3. So hopefully the guys who are normally hitting the shots and making those shots will connect a little better as we move forward.”
Tubelis has scored in double figures in all 14 games.
“He’s one of the best players in the league, and I think he showed it tonight,” teammate Courtney Ramey said.
Ballo’s foul-line jumper, his first basket of the game, gave Arizona a 30-14 lead with 6:19 remaining in the first half, forcing an Arizona State timeout. As the teams headed to their benches, Kriisa said “be quiet” as looked toward the ASU student section.
The Wildcats led by as many as 18 points in the first half.
Arizona looked every bit a top-five team in the first half, but the Wildcats had surprising difficulty against Arizona State’s aggressive full-court press in the second half. The Sun Devils could have found their way back into the AP Top 25 with a win. Regardless, they will remain a contender in the Pac-12 because of a harassing defense that had limited opponents to 36.7% shooting from the floor coming in.
Arizona: The Wildcats have a home series against Washington and Washington State on Thursday and Saturday.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils also host to the Washington schools next weekend.