ASU Takes Care Of OSU

March 8, 2003

By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com

It was fitting that the Arizona State men's basketball team's six seniors went out the way they did Saturday in their final home appearance of the season.

There was some inconsistency, there were many struggles and there were lots of highs and lows in a game that somewhat resembled the collective careers of the 2003 graduating class under the tutelage of Sun Devil head coach Rob Evans. But in the end, after the storm had settled and after the waves had calmed, there was a resounding brightness lying not too far ahead on the horizon.

ASU is sure to find that light sooner rather than later as a result of its 74-64 victory over Oregon State at Wells Fargo Arena that represents the end of a long journey for its seniors, but just the first few steps on the road back to prominence.

'There was a tremendous amount of pressure on these guys every game, not just because of the season, but strictly because of past seasons,' said Evans, whose team will face Oregon in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament at 3:50 p.m. PT/4:50 p.m. MST Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. 'These guys know this program hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in a long time, so every game has been a little bit of pressure on them to try to do that. When it comes down to a ballgame like this, I felt like they handled the pressure very, very well.'

The Sun Devils (19-10, 11-7 Pac-10) not only secured the No. 4 seed in the Pac-10 Tournament, but they also put to rest any debate about whether they had locked up an NCAA Tournament berth.

Although some people think the Sun Devils are underdogs heading into the Pac-10 Tournament, not everyone is ready to count them out just yet. They have shown resiliency all year long, especially over the weekend when they needed a pair of wins after three consecutive losses.

'If you want to call us a sleeper, we can wake you up,' said ASU forward Tommy Smith, who was one of three seniors to finish in double figures Saturday with 17 points to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds in a full 40 minutes for the eighth double-double of his career.

With freshman forward Ike Diogu in foul trouble throughout the game, the seniors were asked to carry a heavier load. They answered the call with six minutes remaining even with Diogu back on the floor after Oregon State (13-14, 6-12) had held them scoreless for more than five minutes, while going on an 8-0 run to pull within a single point.

Like he has done many times before this season, senior point guard Kyle Dodd provided ASU with a spark on the strength of his lone make in six attempts from the field. Dodd caught a blazing pass from senior shooting guard Curtis Millage, penetrated to the hoop and laid in a much-needed bucket that gave the Sun Devils some breathing room.

'It was surprising that I was the one who made the play, but Curtis did a good job of kicking it to me,' said Dodd, who had six points and a game-high eight assists in 28 minutes while playing in front of his parents, James and Linda Dodd, loyal ASU basketball supporters who have traveled from Brea, Calif., to nearly every home game for the past four years. 'I just saw an opening, I tried to be aggressive and I took it to the hole strong.'

Sun Devil senior forward Shawn Redhage then got a piece of the action with a drive through the lane and a floater that found the bottom of the net. He finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and he added nine rebounds in his fourth straight solid outing.

'It's something us seniors have been thinking about for a long time -- to get this program back to where it should be,' Redhage said. 'It's the start of something great that's going to be happening here where we get to the (NCAA) Tournament every single time. Our senior class kind of started this off, but we had a lot of great seniors before that taught us a lot and went through the battles of the best.'

Millage added a free throw after going to the line on an intentional foul, his second in the past two games. He had stolen a pass at midcourt when Oregon State freshman guard Lamar Hurd grabbed his jersey to prevent him from coasting in for an easy basket.

Perhaps the biggest lift ASU got all day came with 3:20 to go when Millage tossed in a driving lay-up that gave his team a 66-58 lead. Millage scored after dribbling from the perimeter to the post and releasing the ball two seconds before the shot clock expired.

'I saw the shot clock going down and I tried to take it up strong,' said Millage, who finished with 17 points, three assists and two steals in a full 40 minutes. 'I just had in my mind, 'I'm getting to the basket.' The only person that could stop me from going to the basket was myself.'

The Beavers trimmed the deficit to five points with 2:14 remaining when Hurd buried a short shot in the lane, but the Sun Devils put the game away for good on their ensuing possession. Diogu did the damage with a rim-rocking slam dunk that electrified the crowd of 9,759 at Ned Wulk Court.

'We just had a refuse-to-lose attitude,' Diogu said. 'We weren't going to let them come on our home court and beat us. We just had to suck it up and we thrived in clutch moments by coming up with tough rebounds and by hitting free throws down the stretch. We just basically did what it took to win.'

Although the Sun Devils couldn't maintain their 61.5 percent (16-for-26) first-half shooting after the break, they turned the ball over only three times in the second half. They also held Oregon State senior forward Phillip Ricci to three points after he had scored 13 in the first half while enthralled in an intriguing matchup with Diogu.

Over a stretch of just more than a minute, Ricci and Diogu each netted three straight baskets upon receiving entry passes in the low post. Ricci single-handedly helped the Beavers stay close during a half in which they never trailed by more than eight points, however, Diogu ended up getting the best of the matchup with a 9-for-10 effort from the field, one of the best shooting performances of his career.

'Ike has done an unbelievable job for a young kid,' Evans said. 'He's one of the guys who could be the Player of the Year in the conference, in my opinion. I think there are three or four guys who can win the award, but I certainly think he has played as well as anybody in this league and he has had as much of an impact on a team as anybody in this league.

'By far, he's the Freshman of the Year in this league. If he's not unanimous, somebody needs to check the ballots again.'

Senior forward Brian Jackson finished with 14 points and sophomore forward David Lucas added 12 for Oregon State, which still has hopes of advancing to the National Invitational Tournament. The Beavers shot 47.9 percent (23-for-48) from the field, but they were 71.4 percent (15-for-21) at the charity stripe.

ASU's bench was held scoreless in a combined 28 minutes.

GAMES NOTES: Oregon State leads the all-time series 33-27...ASU has won nine of the past 10 meetings between the schools, including the last four in Tempe...the Sun Devils finished in fourth place in the Pac-10 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season when they finished tied for fourth place. That year, they were 18-12 overall and 10-8 in conference play, but they got snubbed of an NCAA Tournament berth...Millage is 36-for-40 (90 percent) fromthe free-throw line in the past seven games and he is also averaging 21.1 points during that span...Diogu set the school record for the most starts by a freshman with 29. Redhage (1999-2000) and Jamal Faulkner (1990-91) each started 28 games in their rookie campaigns...Diogu hauled down six boards Saturday to move five away from matching the freshman rebound record of 224 set by Mario Bennett in the 1991-92 season. He needs to make four more free throws and he needs to attempt only five more shots from the charity stripe to set the school record in both categories...Dodd has 51 assists and only eight turnovers in his past 10 outings...before the game, a moment of silence was held in memory of Larry Campbell, ASU's longtime official scorekeeper who passed away Friday...at halftime, former Sun Devil football player TerrellSuggs was recognized for winning the Ted Hendricks Award, given each year to the nation's best defensive end.

GOLDMAN GETS ANOTHER YEAR: Senior reserve guard Brandon Goldman wasn't honored Saturday with ASU's other six seniors because he'll be sticking around for a fifth season.

UP NEXT: ASU's game against Oregon in the opening round of the Pac-10 Tournament can be seen on Fox Sports Net. It can also be heard on ESPN 860 AM. Visit TheSunDevils.com in the coming week for extensive ASU basketball coverage.

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu.

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