UC Riverside Preview

Arizona State, 2-0 for the first time in the Rob Evans era, takes on the University of California-Riverside Highlanders Saturday, 1 p.m. (MST) at Wells Fargo Arena.

Projected Starters: Arizona State (2-0)

PG: Jason Braxton, 6-3, 190 Jr.
SG: Tron Smith, 6-2, 195 Fr.
SF: Steve Moore, 6-4, 205 Jr.
PF: Ike Diogu, 6-8, 250 So.
C : Keith Wooden, 6-9, 220 Fr.

Projected Starters: UC Riverside (0-2)

PG: Brett Ost, 6-1, 175 Jr.
SG: Ted Bell, 6-3, 195 Sr.
SF: Kevin Butler, 6-3, 195 Sr.
PF: Nate Carter, 6-7, 220 So.
C : Vili Morton, 6-8, 250 Jr.

It is often said that a win is a win is a win, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's always a victory; at least not morally speaking.

After a surprisingly ineffective outing against Cal State Fullerton on Monday night, Coach Rob Evans called his team's performance "unacceptable" in his post-game remarks to the media.

It is often a sign of a young, inexperienced team to struggle with the dispensing of lesser foes, and the ability to play consistently hard is often just beyond reach.

Fortunately for Arizona State, another mediocre opponent is waiting in the wings, prepared to enter into the Devils' lair a decided underdog. It remains to be seen however, if this is the time Rob Evans' nascent squad latches onto the blowout victory seemingly at its fingertips.

Call it "Big West Redux" if you will, or just another game against a lesser-known state school from California. Cal-Riverside (0-2) is next, and characterizations aside, the time has come to determine the character of this Arizona State team.

Another lackadaisical performance at home by the Sun Devils would establish a dangerous pattern, and seriously call into question the long-view prognosis of a team thought by some close to the program to be on the verge of a national breakout season.

Young as this Arizona State team may be, the Fullertons and Riversides will soon turn into the Nebraskas and Northwesterns and eventually give way to the Arizonas and Stanfords. And then, "unacceptable" performances could quickly turn into mortifying ones, and go rapidly downhill from there.

So now, the need for a statement game exists against a Big West Conference team that, while more diversely talented, has exactly one fewer true national star than the Pape Sow-led Cal-Fullerton team Arizona State faced last Monday.

Sadly, Cal-Riverside is also a program coping with recent tragedy. In September three Highlanders' basketball players were on their way home from a Las Vegas concert when the driver of a commercial truck fell asleep at the wheel, causing a three-vehicle collision. Kellen Dixon, a Cal-Riverside reserve wing died in the accident.

The two other teammates in the vehicle with Dixon escaped with varying injuries. Michael Ferrera, who was driving, was the more seriously injured of the two and has not, as of yet, returned to the team. Mark Peters is back and contributing in the backcourt rotation.

Cal-Riverside has two players selected by the media to the pre-season All-Big West Conference team. One is Nate Carter, a 6-7 sophomore forward who led the team in scoring a year ago with 16.4 points per game, and was named Big West Freshman of the Year. Carter is an athletic scorer who should be a tough match-up for Arizona State defensively.

The other Highlander player garnering significant pre-season publicity is Vili Morton, a powerfully built 6-8, 250 forward who averaged just shy of a double-double in the 2001-02 season, but elected to redshirt last season in order to improve his game. Morton is the team's primary threat in the painted area.

The Highlanders will play a three-guard lineup similar to Arizona State, with the team's leading scorer through two games, 6-3 senior Kevin Butler locked in at one spot. Butler led the team in assists last season but is actually slated to play more on the wing this season due to his athleticism and the fact that he's the team's best long-range threat.

Junior College transfers Ted Ost and senior Ted Bell are the other backcourt starters. Both are relatively unproven commodities that have failed to stand out as of yet for the Highlanders, at least statistically. Mark Peters and Ricky Porter are likely to play starter-type minutes off the bench in the backcourt on any given day.

Frontcourt depth is provided by 6-11 German transfer Klaus Schille, the only player taller than 6-8 on the roster, as well as junior college transfers, 6-8 David Jobe, and 6-6 Matt Benson.

The coach of the Highlanders, John Masi, is entering his 25TH season with the school. The last three seasons in a row have all been losing campaigns including last year's dreadful 6-18 finish. Remarkably, they are his only three seasons with losing records at the University.

Arizona State should push Masi and UC Riverside to a 0-3 start on Saturday, leaving a team picked by Big West Conference coaches to finish seventh in league play seemingly on a collision course with a fourth straight losing season.

Prediction: Arizona State 81 UC Riverside 65

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