The hottest team in the Pac-12 will meet the league’s highest-ranked squad when Arizona State and No. 14 Oregon play Thursday night in Tempe, Ariz., in an attempt to provide some clarity at the top of the conference race.
Arizona State (17-8, 8-4 Pac-12) has won five in a row and seven of eight, and its five-game conference streak is the program’s first since James Harden’s second and final team in 2008-09. The Sun Devils’ only loss in this hot stretch came when Washington State’s CJ Elleby made a step-back 3-pointer with four seconds remaining in a 67-65 road loss Jan. 29.
The Ducks (20-6, 9-4) have won six of eight after a weekend home sweep of then-No. 16 Colorado and Utah. After a stop at No. 24 Arizona on Saturday, the Ducks will play their final three games at home, where they are 14-0.
“We’re going to have to play our best down the stretch, and you’re going to have to win on the road if you’re going to win it,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman, who passed John Wooden with his 665th career victory in the Utah game.
“It’ll be an interesting last three weeks. We have a big road week. So we’ll have to play really well.”
Colorado (20-6, 9-4) and Arizona (18-7, 8-4) also are tied for the Pac-12 lead in the loss column, and USC (19-7, 8-5) and UCLA (15-11, 8-5) are stalking. The Arizona and Southern California schools play in Los Angeles next week.
Arizona State’s resurgence came a couple of weeks after a 75-47 loss to Arizona in Tucson in the Pac-12 opener Jan. 4.
The Sun Devils beat Utah 83-64 on Jan. 18 and then won the Arizona rematch 66-65 on Jan. 25, when Alonzo Verge Jr.’s driving layup with 10.9 seconds left capped a comeback from a 22-point first-half deficit. They beat USC 66-64 on Feb. 8 despite going more than 11 minutes without a field goal, missing 15 straight until Remy Martin’s 15-footer broke a tie with 16.2 seconds left.
“We are not satisfied,” said Verge, who has embraced his reserve role and is averaging 16.8 points off the bench in the past eight games.
“This is something we knew we were capable of doing, and something we are going to continue doing. We are going to keep working and pushing each other, and that’s where it starts.”
The game features two of the top candidates for Pac-12 Player of the Year: Oregon senior guard Payton Pritchard and Martin, who are 1-2 in the league in scoring. Martin is averaging 19.56 points per game. Pritchard is at 19.50 while playing one more game.
Each will enter as a reigning national player of the week. Martin was named Oscar Robertson national player of the week as chosen by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association after scoring 66 points on 67 percent shooting in the Sun Devils’ road sweep of the Bay Area schools.
Pritchard was recognized by the Naismith Trophy committee after scoring 40 points in victories over Colorado and Utah. He had his fourth career double-double with 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in the 68-60 victory over Colorado. Pritchard is the only player from a Power 6 conference averaging at least 19 points, four rebounds and five assists.
Martin and Pritchard scored 29 points apiece in the Ducks’ 78-69 victory in the first meeting this season Jan. 11.
–Field Level Media