Whether it eventually proves to be a championship caliber slugfest or a one-sided thrashing remains to be determined but one thing was abundantly clear Saturday night as Herb Sendek and Sean Miller squared off for the first time against one another on opposing sides of the Territorial Cup Series.
Miller won the first round in decisive fashion as his Arizona Wildcats scored 52 points in the second half en route to a runaway 77-58 win over Arizona State at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.
The Wildcats (10-9; 4-3 in the Pac-10) scored seemingly at will after intermission, getting countless easy looks at the basket they couldn't come by in the first half, and making 18-of-24 shots from the field (75 percent) in the period, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range after making just 2-of-11 from the distance before the break.
Kyle Fogg had a game high 21 points for Arizona and Derrick Williams added 20 points with Nic Wise scoring 16 and adding six assists.
"Their penetration hurt us," Sendek said. "As much as anything our offense led to some transition baskets for them. The last segment of the game we're pressing, which we don't do. We're scrambling. But I thought they beat us in penetration, they hurt us with some pick and roll. Just always felt we were climbing uphill because of their ineptitude on offense."
The Sun Devils have been heavily reliant on the 3-point shot often this season, with much less production in the post or off the dribble in the half court than most good teams around the country, and that caught up with them on a night where they made just 9-of-29 from 3-point range and 16-of-53 from the field in the game.
ASU led 27-25 at intermission despite making just 3-of-15 from behind the arc and 8-of-15 from the free throw line. Comparatively, UA made all 13 of its foul shots in the first half. Those things kept the game closer than it probably should have been.
"We were up 20-10, we missed a pair of three throws, we missed the front end of a pair of three throws, that was four points, and I think we had other opportunities during that stretch to score and we just didn't capitalize," Sendek said.
Miller said his team's second half was potentially as well as it has played all season, and for it to come in this game in particular was an important. The Wildcats play five of their next seven games at home after a less-than-favorable five of seven played on the road to start the Pac-10.
"Our guys did a good job tonight," Miller said. "As a coach sometimes you get too much credit or too much blame and really tonight was a player's game. Our guys moved the ball, they shared it, they competed, they were ready, they really believed we could win."
It was no surprise things got worse for ASU as the second half wore on according to Sendek, who made some ill-fated attempts to find something that might work for his club's offense. ASU went to a small lineup for a stretch with the tallest player on the court being the 6-foot-6 Kuksiks, and they even pressed for the last four or five minutes despite not being a team that does it hardly ever.
Ultimately, none of those things were likely to work given the situation, and Sendek knew it.
"I thought Arizona was really good tonight," Sendek said. They're really a good team. We lost to a very, very good basketball team tonight. They consistently have four guys in double figures. They have an outstanding backcourt. Derrick Williams is a showcase, premier freshman player. He's very efficient on offense. The basket continued to be like a thimble for us and eventually that took its toll and the floodgates opened on the other end for them."