Defense, Rebounding Doom Devils in Close Loss

Ike Diogu was four points short of his fresh career high. Cal was only two points and two rebounds better than ASU. Basketball may not be a game of inches, but small margins are sometimes enough to tip the scales. Then again, the Bears enormous advantage in field goal percentage, 59.6% to 43.5% is probably the figure that is most responsible for the Sun Devils' heartbreaking 84-82 loss.

Contrary to the their game against Stanford a couple of days ago, the Sun Devils' offense was sizzling from the opening tip-off. At the 12:44 mark of the first half, six points by Serge Angounou propel ASU (16-7, 5-6) to a 20-8 lead. Cal (12-9, 5-6) switches to a zone defense, but Kevin Kruger's three point baskets negate that scheme and the Sun Devils have their biggest lead, 31-18, with 6:22 left in the half. The team's late first half swoons paid an unfortunate repeat visit, as the maroon and gold get outscored 14-5 the rest of the period, and enjoy only a slim 36-32 advantage at halftime.

The lead changed hands several times in the opening minutes of the second stanza. Back to back three pointers by reserve Richard Midgley gave Cal the lead 55-52 at the 11:37 mark of the second half. ASU kept matters close, not allowing Cal to enjoy a lead greater than five points. Kruger's long-range basket gave the home team a 77-76 lead with 1:57 minutes to go, but Midgley converts three free throws and his team regains the lead 79-77. Angounou adds a three pointer of his own, just to be answered by Davis Paris' three-point play, which gave the Bears an 82-80 lead with 41 seconds to go. Ike Diogu scores ASU's last points of the game with twenty nine ticks left on the clock, but it was Midgley again who scored off an offensive rebound to seal the faith of the game with just two second left in the contest. Diogu's desperation shot misses the mark as the buzzer sounded.

Diogu's 35 points led all players on the floor. Kruger and Angounou scored 15 points each, while the later grabbed team-high eight boards. Jason Braxton was the only other ASU player in double figures with 10. The Devils' 14-20 free throw shooting is a respectable figure, but in a close game such as this was naturally an area that prevented a victory, as did the 52 points given up in the second half. Rob Benson paced the visitors with 20 points and eight rebounds.

"Every time we come in and we are talking about a loss, it boils down to one thing, defense," said Rob Evans after the game. "In the second half, they shoot almost 70 percent on us, and they get second chance shots. We're not taking care of details, boxing out, pursuing the ball. It's just not putting a body on somebody and basically that comes down to concentration." Evans added that not containing drivers was probably the biggest defensive shortcoming of his team on Saturday night.

"We just didn't capitalize," commented Diogu. "We were right there, but we didn't come up with the big stop, didn't come up with a rebound…miscues on defense here and there. We had a chance to win the game and we didn't get it done."

This loss naturally dealt a severe blow to the already tenuous chances of the Sun Devils qualifying for the NCAA tournament. It is believed that ASU needs to finish 10-8 in conference play, which means that they can only afford two losses in the next seven games. The maroon and gold haven been surprisingly solid on the road thus far, and one can only hope that they continue that trend as they visit the Los Angeles schools this coming week.

Sparky's Sundries: To mark the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign, coaching staffs in this game and all around the nation adorned sneakers on the sidelines…a full timeout taken by ASU only 1:07 into the second half was probably a sign of things to come. Cal was an unconscious 68% shooting from the field in that period…Larry, who accompanied Big E' to the game, was decked out in a Devils Digest T-Shirt as he participated in a halftime free shooting competition. However, just like his favorite team he didn't fair well…

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