Spirited Comeback Snaps Devils' Losing Streak

This game was supposed to be ASU's fifth straight loss. At least that's what several maroon and gold fans were thinking as they exited Wells Fargo Arena with just over a minute to go. At that time the home team was down seven points, and looked like another late game rally fallen short. Coach Evans and his players took notice of those departing spectators, and vowed in the huddle not to lose. Consequently, the game was tied in dramatic fashion, and won convincingly 74-62 in overtime.

The first half was an offensive struggle for both teams. At the 11:56 mark, ASU led 10-8, with starter Wilfried Fameni scoring six of those points. Three pointers by Brian Morrison and Dijon Thompson gave UCLA a 14-13 edge with 9:01 left in the half. At the 3:31 mark, Ike Diogu misses his team's lone free throw of the night, but converts on the second attempt to tie the game at 18-18. Both squads fought tooth and nail in the last few minutes of the period, and Thompson's shot with one second left has the visitors sporting a 27-25 lead at the half.

The Sun Devils looked shell shocked in the beginning of the second half, and despite an Evans' time out 90 seconds into the half, the home team found itself down 43-29 at the 12:28 mark. ASU fought back, and a Diogu basket behind the arc put ASU within one 51-50 with 6:59 left in the half. As mentioned, with 69 seconds left in the game, the faith of the contest seemed all but sealed. However, crucial misses by UCLA from the charity stripe, coupled with timely long-range baskets by Kevin Kruger and Jamal Hill tied the game at 60-60 and sent it into overtime.

In overtime, ASU was remarkable from the line converting on all 12 shots. In fact, those dozen free throws along with a Justin Allen tip-in were the only points scored for the Devils in the extra five minutes. The visitors were a stone cold 0-11 from the field during that period, and were outscore 14-2.

Diogu led all players in points (27) and rebounds (13). Steve Moore scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and overtime, and Justin Allen's 11 points, the most since he was diagnosed with cancer a couple of seasons ago, were vital for this streak breaking victory. ASU's 19-20 free throw shooting was the best in school history in a game where the Sun Devils shot 20 or more free throws. On the other hand, UCLA converted only 52.9% of their attempts from the line. The home team edged UCLA 39-36 in rebounds, and forced the Bruins into 23 turnovers. Thompson led the visitors with 18 points.

"I'm really excited for these guys tonight," said Coach Evans. "They really battled through tonight. They were on the road for a long time; and we've been struggling. When you're a young team and struggling, you have the tendency to drop your head and give up. These guys battles and scarped and they will grow from that."

The ASU skipper didn't seem to be astonished by his squad's performance from the free throw line on Thursday night. "We're a pretty good free throw team," he remarked. "If you take a look at our percentage and you take Jason (Braxton) out of there...we have three guys shooting over 80%. It looks like we're not a good free throw shooting team but we are, and he (Braxton) stepped up and made his tonight."

The mission right now, according to the ASU coach, is for the Devils is to finish eighth or higher in the conference to gain a berth for the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles. "We're trying to get to L.A.," he said. "And for us to get to L.A. we have to win some basketball games. Tomorrow (Friday) we'll show them the tape of what they did bad early in the game, and we'll go out and get ready mentally for the (USC) game. They're excited about the win, but they're not giddy about it."

Evan ended his post game comments to the media by applauding the fans who stayed through out the game, as well as expressing displeasure in those who chose not to. "I was really proud of our students," stated Evans, "and I was really proud of the loyal fans who stayed at the basketball game. We're down seven points and I see people leaving. That's the first time I've seen that in my career, and that was disappointing. I understand that they're probably disappointed that our season hasn't gone the way they wanted, but we need help. We don't help when we're 20-0. We need help now!"

As hard as it may be, this young Sun Devils team needs to temper the amount of confidence gained from this game. After all, this victory didn't change their position in the league at tenth place. However, a win against USC tomorrow should vault ASU out of the cellar, and give life for a team that was left for dead. The taste of victory is sweet, and it's time for the Devils' to do anything they can to savor it and rid of the sour flavor that has been a staple of this 2003-04 season.

Sparky's Sundries: Former Sun Devil wide receiver Shaun McDonald, and ex Phoenix Suns' Dan Majerle were in attendance…Wilfried Fameni and Tron Smith started the game for ASU. While Smith was scoreless, Fameni was solid with eight points and seven boards during his 21 minutes…Props to the ASU male cheerleader who brushed off a accidental collision with UCLA's Trevor Ariza under the basket…The student section definitely did its part cheering on during the comeback, and just for good measure mocked the balding Brian Morrison with the chant "Rogaine…Rogaine…"

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