Game Preview: ASU vs. Kansas

March 21, 2003

By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two teams echoed similar sentiments Friday before a WestRegional second-round game that represents the gateway to the Sweet Sixteen.

Having just defeated No. 7-seeded Memphis, No. 10 Arizona State expressedconfidence and a nothing-to-lose mentality. No. 2 Kansas spoke with a highlevel of certainty, despite its narrow victory over No. 15 Utah State.

Whether those statements come to fruition will be revealed Saturday nightwhen the Sun Devils meet the Jayhawks at the Ford Center.

'We will do whatever we need to do to try to win the ballgame,' said ASU headcoach Rob Evans, whose team has been tabbed as eight-point underdogs. 'We gointo a game with a plan, and if things change, then we change. I'm notmarried to any system. We won't change a lot, but if we feel like we need tobe a little bit more patient, then we'll be a little bit more patient.'

The Sun Devils (20-11) had a blistering second half against Memphis duringwhich they shot 69.6 percent (16-for-23) from the field. The Jayhawks, on theother hand, raised questions after the break by getting outscored 31-30versus Utah State.

Given its recent NCAA Tournament history, Kansas head coach Roy Williamsdoesn't have any qualms about entering a second-round contest after enduringa sluggish opening game. In 2001, the No. 4 Jayhawks were tested beforepulling away from No. 13 Cal State Northridge. Last season, No. 1 Kansasaverted an upset bid against No. 16 Holy Cross.

'You all of a sudden realize that it is just another basketball game,'Williams said. 'The comfort level is a little better.'

After squelching any nerves the Sun Devils may have had against Memphis, theyfigure to come out loose Saturday, even when facing a team that has won 13 ofits last 15 games. Several players said Friday that nobody expected them toget this far.

'Being an underdog is motivation and it also takes off pressure because theother team is expected to win and they're expected to go further,' said ASUsenior forward Tommy Smith, who hopes to increase his offensive productionSaturday after getting held to nine points in 24 minutes against Memphis.'Every game you win, everyone thinks of it as a surprise, but we're notsurprised that we have won the games we have won. Every time we get on thecourt, we're expecting to win that game.'

Look for the Sun Devils to possibly revert back to their open-post offense,which paid big dividends Thursday for freshman forward Ike Diogu. WithMemphis' front line stretched out to the perimeter, Diogu got several openlooks and he also created many passing lanes to the basket for hisquick-cutting teammates.

'He went into the game with great confidence, he knew it was a team thing andhe knew we were going to have his back,' Smith said. 'He just played themlike he played anyone else.'

ASU has to put together a complete game in order to stand a chance againstKansas, which has been likened to Oregon because of its fast-paced offense,its smooth transition play and its hard-nosed mentality. The Jayhawks (26-7)have shown a tendency to change defenses and they adapt well to what theiropponent is running.

Nearly everything in Kansas' disciplined offense goes through senior forwardNick Collison and senior guard Kirk Hinrich, both of whom earned preseasonAll-America honors. Collison leads the Jayhawks with an average of 18.4points and 9.3 rebounds per game, while Hinrich averages 17.6 points and 3.6assists per game.

Kansas also relies on sophomore guard Keith Langford, a left-handed perimeterplayer who likes to take his man off the dribble and explode to the hole. Hehas scored in double figures in 29 of 32 games this year.

'At times this season, I've been sort of up and down,' Langford said. 'Coachhas told me for our team to be successful, I have to be a lot more aggressiveand I have to rebound a lot better. If I see an advantage or an opportunitywhere I can score, I try to make something happen, but I always try to do itin the flow of the offense.'

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

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