TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—The Arizona Wildcats may have never been more thrilled to see archrival Arizona State than they were on Wednesday night.
No. 17 Arizona’s 71-47 victory over the last-place Sun Devils snapped the Wildcats’ three-game Pac-10 losing streak, their longest since 1983-84, Lute Olson’s first year as coach. Arizona has beaten ASU 11 straight times.
“This was a very emotional game for us because we had been in a slump,” said freshman Chase Budinger, who led Arizona with 21 points and 10 rebounds. “We needed to get our swagger back.”
The Wildcats (14-5, 5-4) will need more than swagger when No. 4 North Carolina comes to town Saturday in a long-anticipated intersectional showdown. But the Wildcats have more confidence than they did after being swept by the Los Angeles schools on the road last weekend.
They may also have a secret weapon: 6-foot-9 forward Jordan Hill, a little-used reserve who was thrust into the starting lineup when Olson suspended leading scorer Marcus Williams for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Hill scored a career-high 12 points, shooting 5-for-7 from the floor, and grabbed nine rebounds. Teammates mobbed Hill when he came to the bench during timeouts.
“The guys love him,” Olson said. “They know how much he can help us if he just continues to improve, and I think this game will help him a great deal confidence-wise.”
The energetic Hill also nailed teammate Mohamed Tangara with an inadvertent elbow, sending Tangara to University Medical Center for an exam.
Teammates said they knew Hill would shine if he could work his way into the rotation. They didn’t know Hill’s chance would come with Williams on the sideline.
“The situation like this with Marcus, it happened for a reason,” point guard Mustafa Shakur said. “It gave Jordan an opportunity to come in and really gain his confidence. I think he’s going to be a big strength for us now.”
Olson declined to discuss Williams’ rules violation but said he would return for Saturday’s game against the Tar Heels.
Christian Polk scored 11 points for Arizona State (6-14, 0-9), which has dropped 10 straight, the Sun Devils’ longest skid since they lost the final 11 games in 1996-97.
“The frustration is getting worse,” said ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph, limited to a season-low five points on 2-of-6 shooting from the floor.
This was the first meeting between Olson and Herb Sendek, ASU’s first-year coach. Sendek, who built a solid program at North Carolina State, saw how far he has to go to close the gap with the longtime powerhouse 90 miles from Tempe.
“We are not short on hope,” Sendek said. “We know we have a great deal of work to do. We have a blueprint and we are going to take it one step at a time.”
The Sun Devils work hard but struggle mightily to score. They are last in the Pac-10 in scoring (61.1 points per game) and field goal percentage (42.5 percent).
That didn’t change against Arizona’s zone defense.
The Wildcats closed the first half on an 11-3 run to take a 37-26 lead into the break. The Sun Devils trimmed the deficit to 42-34 before the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run sparked by Hill’s dunk. Arizona shut out ASU for a stretch of 5:35 and limited the Sun Devils to two baskets in the final 10:22.
“We got hit between the eyes,” Sendek said.