It happens every year: thousands of Arizona Wildcat basketball fans infiltrate Wells Fargo Arena for UA basketball's annual matchup with ASU in Tempe.
Considering the success enjoyed by this season's Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 nationally for eight straight weeks earlier this season, there should once again be plenty of cardinal red in the stands for Friday night's sold-out matchup against the 18-6 Sun Devils.
UA head coach Sean Miller said the support away from McKale Center is something that few teams in college basketball enjoy – and he said it makes a difference during games.
"We've been in Madison Square Garden playing Duke (on Nov. 29), and we heard our fans. We've been at San Diego State in an unbelievable environment in November; we heard our fans. We hear them every place we go," he said.
"I think part of what they remind us of is how special it is to be a part of this program. Very few programs have the home court we have, but I would even go as far as to say maybe as many as three, four, maybe five in the country have fans wherever they go on the road attend the games. But it does make a difference."
The Wildcats' well-traveled basketball fan base is one reason they're 7-1 away from Tucson this season, including victories over three teams currently ranked in the AP top 15.
But ASU has enjoyed a sizeable home-court advantage of its own this season. The Devils are 13-1 at Wells Fargo Arena – their only loss coming in their Pac-12 opener against Washington – and they were lifted by one of their largest, most vocal crowds of the season in Saturday's 74-72 win over Oregon for their fifth overall victory in their last six games.
ASU center and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Jordan Bachynski is hopeful that the gold-clad fans will outnumber and out-vocalize the Wildcat contingent on Friday.
"It's going to be huge," he said. "That's the home-court advantage, the energy that our fans bring, and they're doing a phenomenal job.
"It makes it so much more fun to play when it's loud. When we make a big play and the whole arena explodes, it is such an amazing feeling, and I love it. I am so grateful that we have the fans that we do that are coming out and being loyal and staying the whole time and just doing – no other word for it, just a phenomenal, a great job. It's fun to play in."
Bachynski was held without a field goal in ASU's first meeting with UA this season, a 91-68 Wildcat win in Tucson. Miller expects a more difficult challenge on Friday from Bachynski, partly due to the return of Sun Devil senior guard and second-leading scorer Jermaine Marshall, who missed the first meeting with a groin injury.
"Maybe not having Marshall, it put more pressure on him," said Miller of Bachynski's struggles in their first meeting. "You didn't have to account for (Marshall's) 16 points per game from the perimeter.
"This game will be much more difficult because they have another shooter on the court. But Bachynski seems to get better as his career unfolds, and I don't know if he's ever been playing better. We really have our hands full."
UA junior guard and leading-scorer Nick Johnson said he's ready for the challenge of guarding Marshall on Friday.
"We were actually really looking forward to playing against him. I was looking forward to guarding him," he said.
"We pretty much know his game and what he's going to do. He's a great pace-changer from (ASU guard and leading scorer Jahii Carson) going to the rim and attacking. He's more of a shooter, so we're definitely looking forward to playing ASU at their full strength, and just going from there."
Johnson, a Gilbert native, is also looking forward to seeing plenty of folks in the stands wearing red on Friday – including people close to him.
"It's definitely a big game for us because it's our next one, but definitely it feels good going home," he said. "I'm going to have a lot of friends and family at the game, so it's going to be a good one."