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In arguably the most exciting Pac-12 game of the season, Arizona State got their first back to back wins of the season with a 87-80 upset over the rival Wildcats Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena. Trent Lockett, Carrick Felix and Jonathan Gilling scored 21 points each for the Devils while Jordan Bachysnki chipped in with 11 points and a career-high six blocks. Kyle Fogg was huge Arizona down the stretch with a game-high 23 points but it wasn't enough as now it looks that there is no chance for the Wildcats to get a NCAA Tournament at large bid.
"I though it was a tremendous team effort today," Head Coach Herb Sendek said. "We could pass around superlatives to everybody who contributed and played this afternoon."
"By far one of the best games we've put together all season," Felix said. "We really believed in this one and coaches put together a great plan."
It was clear the Devils were set on raining on Arizona's parade from the opening tip. With a 5-0 ASU run to get it started, the large turnout of Wildcat fans was quickly silenced. Instead of building on that momentum though, Felix missed an easy dunk and Arizona turned the tides with an 8-0 run of their own.
But rather than folding early like fans of the maroon and gold have seen so often this season, the Devils didn't panic. In fact, they did the exact opposite by sticking to the game plan and continuing to attack it down low, scoring 14 of their first 19 in the paint.
"Coach is one of the best X and O guys in the country," Lockett said. "You give him a week for a game and he's always brewing up concoctions."
Both teams then traded blows for the final ten minutes of the first before the Wildcats pulled away by six thanks largely in part to two highly-contested threes from Brendon Lavender. But once again, the Devils didn't as much as flinch. Instead they continued to shock their fans by keeping calm and returning out of the locker room on a 7-0 run, five of which were from Felix (who hadn't played since February 18 due to a flu bug).
"I thought a real key for us was the start of the second half...our guys came out and delivered the first blow," said Sendek. "[Felix's] energy today was contagious for our team"
The Wildcats also didn't do themselves any favors by getting into foul trouble early and allowing the Devils to go an uncharacteristic 16 for 17 from the charity strike in the final 20 minutes.
"Free throws have plagued us throughout the season but today everybody had the confidence and knocked them down," Lockett said. "It probably won us the game."
But every time Arizona State would begin to pull away, it seemed like Arizona would answer with another Lavender three (of which he made six of eight) or one of many clutch second half buckets from Fogg.
Then, with around four minutes left to play, things got extra interesting.
After a 6-0 ASU run that had Wells Fargo Arena as loud as it's been all season, the teams exchanged buckets before Chris Colvin fouled Fogg on three point attempt that reinvigorated the visiting Tucson crowd.
With Fogg easily sinking all three, the lead was cut down to one with 1:44 remaining, spurring Sendek to call a timeout to refocus his squad. Still, the Devils still seemed to be jittery and following 19 seconds of offensive stagnation, Sendek was forced to call another 30 second timeout to get something to work.
But the second play the Sendek would draw up would end up being the dagger.
Following the back-to-back huddles, Gilling came out and hit the biggest shot of his young ASU career: a dead-on three that would make the arena erupt.
Really though, the freshman was just ecstatic that Sendek gave him a chance on the most pivotal play of the season.
"It gives me a lot of confidence and shows that he has confidence in me," Gilling said.
Yet the Wildcats would still have a chance thanks to a quick Fogg bucket and free throw on a Colvin foul that cut the lead back down to one. Then, for the third and most important time of the game, the Devils would remain cool and collected with Lockett forcing and making two free throws instead of forcing up a desperation shot with 30 seconds left in the game.
With the shot clock turned off, Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller took his final timeout to decide whether to go for the immediate two pointer or the final, game-tying three. Evidently, he elected for the two and it looked like it was going to pay off as Josiah Turner got a wide open drive to the hoop.
But with a clank off the rim, Arizona's tournament hopes would take a huge blow as Turner missed the easy layup. And following two more made free throws from Lockett and Felix, all of Wildcat nation was left stunned as Arizona State got some much needed Duel in the Desert revenge.
"It was fun," Gilling said. "I've never tried anything like this. Our fans did a good job today."
Overall, the Devils played gave their most complete performance of the season and now have as much momentum as they've ever had heading into the Wednesday Pac-12 tournament opener.
"That's a big win for us," Lockett said. "They beat us the last three times I think. It's good having a two game winning streak going into the tournament next weekend."
Both ASU and Arizona will now have to run the table at the tourney if there's any hope for them playing deeper into March.
The Arizona Wildcats still have their hopes riding on their season finale on Sunday, but the outcome will make no difference on the seeding for the Pac-12 tournament next week. Win or lose against the Arizona St. Sun Devils, the Wildcats will enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed. Even if the California Golden Bears should lose to the Stanford Cardinal on Sunday, due to tiebreakers between Cal, the Oregon Ducks and Arizona, they will wind up as the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds, respectively.
Should Cal pick up the win on Sunday, they will be the No. 1 seed and the Washington Huskies will enter the tournament as the second seed.
The Arizona State Sun Devils, meanwhile will enter as the No. 10 seed regardless of any outcome on Sunday, so they will likely be looking to play the spoiler for Arizona's NCAA Tournament hopes more than anything else.
The Arizona Wildcats sit squarely on the bubble with just one regular season game remaining on the schedule. While the Arizona St. Sun Devils have struggled throughout the entire 2011-2012 season, nothing would be sweeter for Herb Sendeck and the players than to knock Arizona out of the NCAA Tournament with a win on Sunday. Needless to say, ASU will be giving the UA everything they've got this weekend.
For Arizona, most have the team projected as one of the final teams 'in' the tournament, although a loss tomorrow would absolutely destroy their chances for an at-large bid. The Sun Devils feature an RPI in the 200's and the defeat would likely drop the 'Cats out of the top-100. It would also kill any momentum the team had heading into the Pac-12 Tournament.
The UA-ASU basketball games are always intense and this year's game to close out the season will have bigger implications than usual. Expect a great atmosphere in Tempe this weekend.
As of late, things haven't been going the Sun Devils way in their instate rivalry with the Wildcats. But this Sunday, redemption could be spelled A-S-U.