Mental Lapses Doom ASU Against Cal

If anybody needed further proof that the game of Basketball is every bit mental, as it is physical, one had only need to look at the Sun Devils loss to the Cal Bears 91-80 on Thursday night. After leading for virtually the first 30 minutes, the home team fell apart, and allowed the visitors from Berkley to notch an impressive road win.

If the first five minutes of the game were any indication, it would have seemed that Cal was going to take command early. With the score 8-7 with 15:08 left, ASU's Chad Prewitt had already two fouls, and in a very controversial call (more on that later) Curtis Millage was called for two fouls and one technical in a span of about ten seconds. From that point on, Prewitt was a non-factor the rest of the half, and Millage never got to really contribute the rest of the game. Nevertheless, Tommie Smith took the offense upon himself. His outside shots, including a couple of three pointers, gave the Devils a 21-14 lead with 11:16 left. Cal's spunky point guard Shante Legans kept his team in the game sinking in three baskets beyond the arc. The Bears trailed only 32-26 with 6:08 left in the first half, en route to a halftime score of 39-34.

While the Sun Devils were hot in the first period shooting 55.6%, their offense was atrocious in the last twenty minutes with 38.2% shooting. Conversely, Cal, which was ice cold in the first half with 35.3%, was absolutely on fire with 78.3% in the second half missing only five shots. Despite the sloppy offense ASU still led 62-60 with 7:30 left. At the 5:39 mark, a Cal basket followed by a technical to Smith gave the visitors 70-63 lead, which was never relinquished. Following that technical, Smith was benched by coach Evans for the remainder of the game. The Bears freshman sensation Amit Tamir scored 11 of his points in the second period, and together with Joe Shipp who scored 14 in that span, heavily contributed to the Bears unconscious shooting display. When the final buzzer sounded, ASU had lost another very winnable game to a ranked team.

Smith led all scorers with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Not only was his careless technical foul detrimental to the team, but also his eight turnovers didn't help the cause to say the least. After playing sparingly in the first half, Prewitt played virtually the whole second period and scored 19 points for the Devils. Awvee Storey and Kenny Crandall, who are still recovering from their injuries, contributed eight points each from the bench. Legans led Cal with 20, while Tamir and Shipp scored 18 each. A 39-29 edge in rebounding didn't help ASU sustain its lead late in the game.

ASU coach Rob Evans has been noticeably biting his tongue when complaining about the unfair officiating that has been a staple of virtually every ASU game. In his post-game press conference, Evans couldn't hold back anymore: "My kids are disciplined, and they showed emotion out there. If you can't play with emotion, you might as well not play this game. I felt that nothing was called on them (Cal), and we get called for showing emotion. It's very dishearting. An official tells me I can't look at him. Since when can't a coach look at an offical? I never said anything until now, but now I have nothing to lose. It's not right that I have to try to mix and match guys (because of foul trouble). I just don't understand what they (the officials) are doing. Maybe the refs are getting frazzled at this point of the season, after working so many games. I look at the tapes, and I just don't understand – what's going on? But I'm not taking anything away from Cal. They played well."

As far as other aspects of the game, the Sun Devil coach had this to say: "Cal is a very good team. They made plays when they needed, and they are very hard to defend. There not the toughest team we played. I still think Oregon was. They have it all. We played hard but not smart. Prewitt played with pain, but he's a warrior. Smith played well. He did tell me that he shoved a player, and he has to learn his lesson (Smith was benched for the last five minutes of the game despite being the best player on the floor for ASU). Kenny and Awvee played with a lot of energy. Millage is a huge part of what we do. For him to sit on the sidelines hurts us a lot."

The loss to Cal is probably one of the most frustrating ones ASU endured this season. Whether it was another lopsided officiating display or mental errors at inopportune times, the Sun Devils will look at this game as another lossed opportunity for a quality win. On Saturday afternoon, ASU will play its last regular season game against Stanford. The home team will hope that the Cardinal's emotional win at Arizona tonight, may cause them to play flat this weekend. Then again, even if Stanford were to play poor, I'm sure the refs will find a way to even matters out when ASU plays them…

Sparky's Sundries: ASU assistant coach Russ Pennell sang the national anthem along with his church quire group…Shante Legans maybe be a "mini-me" look alike, but his 20 points proved that he's one of the best point guards in the conference. He almost single-handily kept ASU's lead from mushrooming in the first half…While the refs were not kind to ASU, consider the fact that since Millage was called for his technical with 15:08 left in the first half, 11 minutes elapsed since the refs called another foul on the home team. On the other hand, at the same 15:08 mark, ASU had already SEVEN team fouls…While Evans did send a message to Smith and the team by benching him after his technical, one can only wonder what could have happened if he did play the rest of the game…As my buddy and I were leaving the arena, we saw the players in the Cal bus applauding loudly as someone entered the vehicle. My buddy turned around and asked me: "Who just walked into the bus – the refs?" If I were a Cal fan, I'd be adding that trio of zebras to my Christmas list…

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