Washington State and Arizona State were tied atop the Pac-10 standings earlier this week. Now they’re both trying to avoid falling into third place.
The sixth-ranked Cougars and No. 24 Sun Devils look to bounce back from a disappointing losses when they meet Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.
Washington State (16-2, 4-2) and Arizona State (14-4, 4-2) were both tied for first place in the Pac-10 with No. 8 UCLA before losses on Thursday.
The Cougars fell to Arizona 76-64, their first double-digit loss since a 14-point defeat at Utah on Dec. 2, 2005.
After opening the season with 14 straight victories, Washington State has lost two of four, with the other loss coming at UCLA on Jan. 12.
On Thursday, the Cougars were down by just three at halftime, before trailing by as much as 19 points in the second half.
“We were still in the game at halftime, but the floodgates opened,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. “It’s not like the kids are lazy or they didn’t try hard. We got exploited.”
The Cougars are now in a three-way tie for second place in the conference with No. 20 Stanford and Arizona State.
The Sun Devils, who finished last in the Pac-10 with a 2-16 record last season, lost to Washington 72-61 on Thursday to drop their second in a row after a 14-2 start.
Against the Huskies, Arizona State shot season lows of 32.1 percent from the floor and 20.8 percent (5-of-24) from beyond the arc.
“We just have to continue to keep working and trying to improve,” Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. “We obviously play an outstanding opponent every night, and we’re going to have to be at our very best to get wins in this conference.”
Arizona State had won its first 11 home games before Thursday’s defeat.
“We have to go up there and steal one,” Bennett said.
The Cougars swept the season series over the Sun Devils last season - including a 48-47 victory in Tempe - and have won six of the last eight meetings.
Washington State leads the nation in scoring defense (53.8 points per game), but has allowed an average of 78.5 points in its two losses. The Cougars’ defense came out flat on Thursday, as they allowed the Wildcats to shoot 55.0 percent from the floor, and gave up a season-high 12 3-pointers on 21 attempts.
Arizona State has averaged just 56.5 points in its last two losses after averaging 74.3 points in winning its first four conference games.
Cougars senior guard Derrick Low leads the team with 13.8 points per game, but was 2-of-9 from the field on Thursday and didn’t record a basket until 2:38 remained. He finished with just five points after scoring a season-high 27 on 10-of-16 shooting in Sunday’s 69-60 win over Oregon.
Low scored 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the two games against the Sun Devils last season.
Arizona State freshman standout James Harden scored 17 points on Thursday, despite playing with a strained right groin. Harden is fifth in the Pac-10 in scoring with 18.5 points.
The Sun Devils, who beat then-No. 17 Xavier 77-55 at home on Dec. 15, have lost five straight home games against top 10 opponents since an 88-72 victory over then-No. 10 Arizona on Jan. 23, 2002.