Free Throws Sink Devils in Tucson

The good news is the Sun Devils shot only five less free throws than Arizona tonight. The bad news is they made 13 less free throws. ASU's woes from the charity stripe were the major factor in another Pac 10 game in which the Devils were "close, but no cigar."

Arizona came out of the gates on a mission. It looked as if they were going to take out their frustrations of losing to ASU in Tempe and being swept on the LA road trip last week by trouncing the Sun Devils. With just over 6 minutes to play in the first half, the Wildcats had built a 16-point lead, 37-21. Then, as Luke Walton and Chris Osborne wrestled for a loose ball, Kyle Dodd jumped on the pile (specifically on Walton). For what the refs believed was his unnecessary flop on Walton, Dodd was hit with a technical foul and ejected from the game. Jason Gardner hit both technical free throws and the Cats enjoyed their biggest lead of the game at 18 points.

The small fracas ignited a fire in the Devils, though. ASU rallied at the end of the first half and went to the locker room trailing by only eleven, 46-35. After the break, the Sun Devils continued to cut into the Wildcats' lead. Leading the charge for ASU was Curtis Millage. He poured in a career high 27 points, including 4-8 shooting from behind the arc, and also added three rebounds and four assists. His bucket with 9:34 remaining in the game gave the Devils their first lead, 60-58.

Arizona responded with a 7-2 run to regain the lead. Tommy Smith answered with a baseline jumper that closed the score to 67-66 with 5:23 on the clock. Once again the Cats went on a small run, capped by Salim Stoudamire's three point basket at the 4:25 mark that pushed the Wildcat lead to 72-66. By now, everyone in attendance and watching on TV knew this contest was going down to the wire. Neither the Cats nor the Devils showed any signs of folding down the stretch.

With 90 seconds left in the game, Jason Braxton penetrated the lane. When the defense collapsed, he kicked the ball back to the top of the key where Chad Prewitt was spotting up for a three-point attempt. Prewitt's shot did not fall, but he was fouled on the play. Unfortunately, as he was fouled, Big Red experienced a cramp in his right calf that kept him on the bench for the duration of the contest.

Coach Evans then had a tough decision to make. Who would enter the game for Chad and shoot the three free throws with the Sun Devils trailing only by four? Shawn Redhage and Curtis Millage were already in the game, so they could not go to the line. Coach Evans chose a senior, Brad Nahra, to shoot the critical shots from the charity stripe. The choice proved to be virtually fatal. Nahra missed all three attempts. The Devils were able to close to within three points, but Salim Stoudamire's tip-in with 41 seconds remaining sealed the Devils fate. The Devils left the floor with an 83-75 defeat at the hands of their bitter rival.

Before leaving with the injury, Chad Prewitt scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Jason Braxton also continued his solid play and ended with 10 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and only one turnover. For the Wildcats, Stoudamire dropped in 24 points while Anderson and Gardner scored 17 and 16, respectively. Isaiah Fox, starting for the slumping Channing Fry, controlled the boards for the Wildcats and ended with 12 rebounds.

The Devils showed a lot of heart in Tucson tonight. The Wildcats were ready to avenge the earlier loss to ASU and to stop their two-game losing streak. The game almost got out of hand early, but the Sun Devils battled their way back into the game. Everyone who played "left it all out on the floor." Unfortunately, effort is not something the NCAA committee looks at when choosing the field of 65. ASU needs wins. Shooting under 50% from the foul line will not get you many victories. This team is beyond moral victories after beating Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA. A win was there for the taking tonight, but ASU let it slip through their hands. This is a game that an NCAA Tournament-bound team wins.

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