November 25, 2014

Arizona's chances at a Pac-12 three-peat are suddenly revived thanks to a return to the type of play at home that led to its recently fallen streak there.

The 12th-ranked Wildcats hope to extend their new run at McKale Center with a sixth straight home win over rival Arizona State on Wednesday night.

Arizona (21-5, 9-4) was in danger of falling out of the conference race early when a 4-4 start was capped by an 83-75 home loss to then-No. 23 Oregon on Jan. 28, snapping the Wildcats' nation-high 49-game winning streak in Tucson.

The Ducks, though, dropped back-to-back games last week while Arizona continued its run of five straight by opening a three-game homestand with victories of 81-75 over UCLA on Friday and 86-78 over then-No. 23 USC on Sunday.

''We expect ourselves to be at the top and competing for the title,'' leading scorer Ryan Anderson said. ''This is what we have done the last couple of years, this is what we plan to do this year.''

Arizona earned outright Pac-12 titles with only five total league losses the last two seasons, even while splitting four games against Arizona State (14-12, 4-9). The Wildcats, though, won the last five meetings in Tucson and took the first this season 94-82 in Tempe on Jan. 3.

"This is a necessary step in us being able to say that we in fact are competing for (a conference title)," coach Sean Miller said of Wednesday's matchup.

Miller says its a slight defensive improvement that has fueled Arizona's run. In the Wildcats' first eight conference games, opponents averaged 77.4 points on 44.2 percent shooting while turning the ball over 10 times per game.

Since, opponents are averaging 70.4 points on 41 percent shooting with 12.6 turnovers per game. Arizona State is the third-worst shooting team in Pac-12 play at 41.9 percent while averaging 75.5 points.

The Wildcats average 83.8 points in conference play, shy of only Washington's 85.5, while shooting a league-best 49.7 percent. Helping is the addition of Allonzo Trier, who has played the last three games after missing a month with a broken hand.

The freshman standout was just hitting his stride before the injury, averaging 19.5 points over a four-game stretch. Although he's shooting 35.7 percent while averaging 13 points since his return, Trier's presence adds much-needed depth.

Trier had 20 points in the first meeting against Arizona State while senior guard Gabe York made 4 of 7 3-pointers and scored 22. Sophomore guard Tra Holder led the way with 24 points for the Sun Devils in their conference-opening defeat that was part of a 1-6 start.

Arizona State has won two of its last three games, tallying its second victory over a ranked opponent with Friday's 74-67 win over the Trojans. It took a step back quickly, though, with a 78-65 loss to the Bruins two days later.

The Sun Devils shot 38.6 percent Sunday, including makes on 10 of 30 shots from inside the 3-point line.

''I felt like we were on the verge of something after Friday night and, like has happened most of the year, there's progress and there's regression,'' coach Bobby Hurley said. ''We regressed again.''

Arizona State will try to improve on its 3-6 road record during a three-game trip. The Sun Devils also have a 67-54 win Dec. 5 over then-No. 18 Texas A&M on their resume, and their previous two victories over Top 25 teams came against Arizona.

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