Sun Devils Smoke Ducks

March 7, 2003

By Brian Gomez,

After getting victimized by big runs in two of its past three games, the Arizona State men's basketball team went on a series of its own scoring spurts Thursday night when it mattered most.

The Sun Devils overcame a four-point halftime deficit on the strength of a 12-2 run in the opening three minutes of the second half and they later fended off an array of attacks before mustering enough energy for one last push. Their late drive not only paved the way for a 91-77 victory over Oregon at Wells Fargo Arena that snapped a season-long three-game losing streak, but it also put in place one of the last pieces of the puzzle that forms a probable trip to the NCAA Tournament.

'Our RPI is 35, we've had quality wins, we've played a tremendous schedule, we don't have any bad losses and nine of the 10 games we've lost are to teams that have been in the Top 25,' said ASU head coach Rob Evans, whose team drew even with Oregon for a fourth-place tie in the Pac-10. 'But we don't bank on anything. What we bank on is that we're going to go out there and finish this season.'

Although Evans felt prior to tip-off that his team was almost assured of its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1995, some people had their doubts as to whether the Sun Devils (18-10, 10-7 Pac-10) would be dancing in two weeks if they had lost Thursday to the Ducks. Those uncertainties are now likely nothing more than afterthoughts. ASU is trying to make the NCAAs for just the second time in the past 12 years and for just the third time in 22 seasons.

'We feel like we're in pretty good position, but we're just trying to get another win Saturday and keep playing good basketball,' ASU senior point guard Kyle Dodd said. 'After the Pac-10 Tournament, we'll sit down and see what happens.'

A win Saturday afternoon in the season finale against Oregon State, coupled with an Oregon loss to No. 1-ranked Arizona, would give the Sun Devils sole possession of fourth place heading into the Pac-10 Tournament. Regardless of what happens, they are guaranteed a rematch versus the Ducks (20-8, 10-7) next week at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

That game could bode well for ASU, which avenged a 94-73 loss at Oregon by receiving double-digit efforts from four players and by shooting 51.6 percent (32-for-62) from the field and 75 percent (24-for-32) at the free-throw line.

The Sun Devils also held a 40-34 advantage on the glass during a game in which they hit the boards with more authority in the second half after allowing the Ducks to grab seven offensive rebounds in the first half.

'Hands down, it was a must-win,' said ASU freshman forward Ike Diogu, who made only 5 of 13 shots from the field, but was 7-for-8 from the charity stripe and managed 17 points to go along with a season-high-tying 14 rebounds for his sixth double-double. 'We had a solid week of practice. We had a day off on Monday, so we all came in and shot around, and yesterday we had dinner at Outback as a team and we all talked about this game. We really want to make the (NCAA) Tournament and this is a big step in the right direction.'

The Sun Devils shored up their problems after trailing 45-41 at intermission against an Oregon team that simply would not go away. Senior shooting guard Curtis Millage gave ASU a 65-56 lead with 12 minutes remaining by knocking down a three-pointer on a crosscourt pass from senior forward Tommy Smith, however, the Ducks came storming back with a 10-2 run that trimmed the margin to a mere three points.

That's when the Sun Devils responded by reeling off five unanswered points that all but sealed the deal with just more than five minutes left. Diogu started the scoring spree with a spin move in the low post and a banker off the glass. Smith then slipped by Oregon junior center Jay Anderson and slammed home a high-flying baseline dunk that electrified the crowd of 9,441at Ned Wulk Court.

'I just saw I had a clear side,' said Smith, who marked his seventh career double-double with 11 rebounds and a career-high-tying 24 points to go along with five assists and four blocks. 'I had a big guy guarding me and I just blew through and went to the hole.'

The Ducks got a free throw from junior guard Luke Ridnour on their next possession, but they went cold from inside the arc thereafter and ASU took full advantage of the opportunity. Smith put back Millage's missed shot in the lane and Millage tossed in a reverse lay-up on a backdoor bounce pass from Diogu.

'We worried about us and we helped each other to go out there and compete,' said Millage, who matched his season high with 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and a 9-for-10 effort from the line. 'Everybody has to go out there and run. You've got to have each other's backs.'

The biggest difference in the second half was that Ridnour, who exploded for 20 points on a 4-for-6 effort from three-point range before the break, had only six points when getting pushed farther out on the arc. He finished with a team-high 26 points and junior guard Luke Jackson had 20 thanks to an 8-for-8 outing at the line.

'In the second half, ASU became the aggressor,' said Oregon head coach Ernie Kent, whose team turned the ball over 17 times and shot 41.5 percent (27-for-65) from the field and 28.6 percent (6-for-21) from three-point range. 'Defensively, they got up to us and we were forcing shots that didn't go. ASU was driving to the basket in the second half and Diogu and Smith made some big shots down the stretch. It was a must-win situation for ASU and they got the job done.'

Senior forward Shawn Redhage finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes when starting in place of senior forward Donnell Knight for the second straight game. Dodd, who again got the nod in favor of sophomore point guard Jason Braxton, had three assists and only one turnover in 28 minutes.

'The kids aren't going to feel good every night and they're not going to be at the magic level every night,' Evans said. 'If they're not at the magic level, the fans have to get them there. The crowd was just unbelievable, and that's what you have to have. If you're going to have a successful program, you've got to win your home games.'

GAME NOTES: The Sun Devils hold a 31-24 lead in the all-time series...they have won four of the past six meetings between the schools...Millage is 33-for-36 (91.6 percent) from the free-throw line in the past six games...Dodd has 43 assists and only six turnovers in his past ninegames...Redhage scored in double figures for the 10th time this season...Smith's four blocks moved him past former Sun Devil Rodger Farrington (1995-97) into second-place all-time on the school's career blocks chart with 161. He needs just 13 more to crack the top 10 in the Pac-10's single-season list.

UP NEXT: ASU will make its final home appearance at 4 p.m. MST Saturday when hosting Oregon State at Wells Fargo Arena. Ceremonies honoring the team's seniors are scheduled to commence at 3:45 p.m. The game can be seen on Fox Sports Net and it also can be heard locally on ESPN 860 AM.

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AP Sports Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. - Curtis Millage tied his season high with 27 points andTommy Smith tied his career high with 24 as Arizona State pulled even withOregon in Pac-10 standings with a 91-77 win over the Ducks on Thursday night.

Ike Diogu had 17 points and 14 rebounds and Smith contributed 11 reboundsand five assists as the Sun Devils (18-10, 10-7) snapped a three-game losingstreak.

Luke Ridnour had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Ducks(20-8, 10-7), and Luke Jackson scored 20 points.

The Ducks and Sun Devils will meet in the first round of the conferencetournament next week, but both hoped to solidify their NCAA tournament chanceswith a late regular-season victory.

Oregon played confidently in building a four-point halftime lead.

But the Ducks had three turnovers in the first 3:30 of the second half, andArizona State went on a 14-2 run, opening a 55-47 lead when Diogu tipped in hisown missed shot with 16:10 to go.

Shawn Redhage, who had 12 points in just his third start of the season,forced another turnover with his defense on Ridnour, who threw the ball intothe backcourt. Smith grabbed it and dunked, sending the Sun Devils to a 58-48lead with 15:06 remaining.

Oregon got within 58-56 after three-point plays by Andre Joseph and JamesDavis, and, after the Sun Devils responded, Ridnour cut the deficit to 69-66with a 3-pointer with 7:16 to go.

But Joseph blew two layups and Ridnour picked up two offensive fouls downthe stretch.

Smith drove the baseline for a dunk, got an offensive rebound and made aputback during a 13-4 spurt that opened an 80-67 lead with 2:00 left.

No more than four points separated the teams in the first half, and therewere 12 lead changes - the last when Joseph made a layup with 1:18 to play.

Ridnour, who had 20 points at halftime, made his fourth 3-pointer of thehalf 28 seconds later and followed two free throw by Millage with two of hisown with 6.7 seconds to go for a 45-41 halftime lead.

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