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Gary Bedore | The Kansas City Star | December 21, 2018

Kansas-Arizona State: Mitch Lightfoot hopes for happy Arizona homecoming against Sun Devils

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Wells Fargo Arena, the 14,198-seat home of the Arizona State Sun Devils, is located in Tempe, Ariz., a 30-minute drive from Mitch Lightfoot's family residence in nearby Gilbert.

"I couldn't even tell you. Hopefully upwards of 25 to 30 (people). There will be a lot there. There will be a lot of friends and family there," Lightfoot, Kansas' 6-foot-8, 225-pound junior forward, said of his own personal cheering section expected at Saturday's KU-Arizona State game.

Tipoff for the nonconference clash between the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (10-0) and No. 18 Sun Devils (8-2) will be 8 p.m. Central time in Tempe, with a live telecast on ESPN2.

Lightfoot was born in the Kansas City area, where he lived five years, then moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he lived 12 years, and Gilbert, where he resided for two years before heading to KU.

"I'm a Jayhawk from the beginning. I kind of really cheered for KU from the jump," Lightfoot said.

Yet the Gilbert Christian High School graduate knows ASU basketball and realizes the program has been on the upswing under fourth-year coach Bobby Hurley.

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The Sun Devils, who were ranked No. 16 at the time, defeated No. 2 KU 95-85 on Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. Lightfoot scored one point with five rebounds, two blocks and three turnovers in 18 minutes in that game.

Several key participants from that contest have graduated or moved on to the pros. ASU has lost senior guards Tra Holder (29 points vs. KU) and Shannon Evans (22), but returns guard Remy Martin, who burned KU for 21 points, as well as 6-8 forward Romello White, who had 13 points and seven rebounds.

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KU has lost Devonté Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, who combined for 46 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds vs. the Sun Devils. However, returnee Lagerald Vick is back for his senior year after scoring 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting with seven rebounds.

"I remember they were really fast last year. They made shots," Lightfoot said. "Their senior guards took it to us. Martin did a good job," he added of the 6-0 sophomore who averages 11.6 points with 30 assists to 18 turnovers.

"They are a little bigger this year. They have some size and bring the same speed and intensity," Lightfoot noted.

Zylan Cheatham, a 6-8 senior transfer from San Diego State, averages 11.9 points and 10.1 rebounds a game. Kimani Lawrence, a 6-7 sophomore guard, contributes 13.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest, while De'Quon Lake, a 6-10 senior forward, has blocked 11 shots in 10 games, providing a spark off the bench.

The squad's best player so far has been freshman guard Luguentz Dort, a 6-4, 215-pound native of Montreal. He averages a team-leading 19.8 points and 5.5 rebounds a game with 22 assists, 32 turnovers and 19 steals. He has played a team-leading 34.0 minutes per contest.

 
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"He is a guard, but he is built like a safety," KU coach Bill Self said. "He is beyond his years physically. He can be a lottery pick and here he is as a true freshman that probably was not projected as highly as some out there (being unranked by Rivals.com). He can score from beyond the arc (19 of 53 for 35.8 percent). He can use his body to get to the hole. He is like a Marcus Smart with skill. He is a tough cat. I mean that in the sincerest form of flattery, because I love Marcus Smart," Self added of the NBA guard who starred at Oklahoma State.

"His competitiveness and strength and those things ... there are some similarities. He can shoot the ball at a pretty high clip (40.8 percent overall) especially if he gets on a roll," Self noted.

Arizona State, 5-0 at home, has dropped two of its last three games after a 7-0 start that included a win over Mississippi State (72-67). ASU lost to Nevada 72-66 on Dec. 7 in Los Angeles, then defeated Georgia 76-74 on Dec. 15 at Georgia, before losing to Vanderbilt 81-65 on Monday in Nashville.

"I think it will be a great test for our guys to play a quality team like this," said Self. The Jayhawks have defeated Michigan State, Tennessee and Marquette on neutral courts, but are now embarking on their first true road game -- one in an enemy gym.

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"They are coming off a loss. They've been on a long road trip themselves. They go to Georgia and Vandy and before that (play) Nevada. How about that three-game stretch and none were at home? They'll be amped up and ready to go," Self noted.

This will mark ASU's second home game in history against a No. 1 team. The Sun Devils lost to No. 1 Arizona 92-72 on Feb. 22, 2003 in Tempe. ASU is 1-8 all-time versus No. 1, the victory 87-67 over Oregon State on March 7, 1981, in Corvallis, Ore.

"This will be at their house," Lightfoot said. "It will be exciting to see how we play there. I know they've got a good atmosphere obviously. When you bring in a ranked team, it will ratchet it up even more. We're anxious to see what it's like."

Hurley realizes the Jayhawks will be fired up to not only avenge last year's loss but win in their final game before a three-day Christmas break.

"This is not a week where I need to motivate my team," Hurley told arizonasports.com. "It's more about playing and executing and controlling your emotions. These are games you live for as a competitor."

Of KU's personnel, fourth-year ASU coach Hurley said: "Lawson (Dedric, 19.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg) up front is a handful. He's a skilled four-man as there is in college basketball with his ability to face-up and score, put it on the floor. He has post moves. He can pass. He's a great all around player. And those are just two guys. They have multiple freshmen that were McDonald's All-Americans that are having a great impact. They'll be up for the challenge."

KU will return home after taking time off for the Christmas holiday and meet Eastern Michigan at 1 p.m. on Dec. 29 at Allen.

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This article is written by Gary Bedore from The Kansas City Star and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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