Devils Edge Bears in Nail Biter 75-70

Prior to tonight's game against Cal, it was hardly an overstatement saying that this contest could make or break ASU's season. The Golden Bears came into Tempe ranked 20th in the nation, and more importantly undefeated in Pac-10 play. After a frustrating and inconsistent display in the first half, Rob Evans' squad turned in one arguably the best performance of the season, en route to this crucial victory.

With a Cal half court violation after only six seconds, and three ASU blocks in the first two minutes, it would seem that the home team was going to dominate the first half. To some extent they did as they led 7-0 following a Curtis Milage three-pointer. Cal answered with an 8-0 run to grab their first lead of the ball game at the 14:24 mark. With 10:43 remaining this margin was at its largest at 19-13 behind Joe Shipp's ten points. The Devils answered with an 11-1 run of their own and led 24:20 at the 6:52 mark. The tooth and nail battle in the first twenty minutes ended with the visitors leading 34-30, with Brain Wethers and Amit Tamir doing the damage. The first half was a sloppy one for the Devils who committed 12 turnovers, and saw starters Donnel Knight and Tommy Smith go scoreless.

The last twenty minutes of the game were sweet redemption for ASU and the boisterous 9,590 fans who provided a clear-cut home court advantage. The Sun Devils reclaimed the lead, and following a 12-5 run led 42-39 with 13:42 left in the game. Ike Diogu had a double double in the second half alone with 12 points and 11 boards. His fine play along with Knight's ten points helped ASU to never relinquish the lead, as their margin reached nine points on a few occasions. Cal committed a plethora of fouls in the last five minutes, and ASU players like Millage, who made seven consecutive free throws, made sure that the Bears would pay for their actions and lose their first conference game this season.

Millage recorded his first ever 20 plus point game at home, pouring in 21 and more importantly did his best to shed his stigma as a poor free shooter making good on his seven attempts – all in the second half. The senior also led all players with five assists. Diogu kept his season long streak of double figure scoring alive, as well as recording his second double double of the season with 18 points and 13 rebounds. More importantly he managed to foul out both of the Bears' centers who were guarding him. Knight scored all of his ten points in the second half and was a big factor in helping his team keep the lead they enjoyed in the last twenty minutes. The local Corona Del Sol product also had two blocks. Shawn Redhage had a very solid night from the bench with ten points as well. While Jason Braxton and Tommy Smith (three blocks) had average at best games offensively, they did an admirable job shutting down Cal's David Midgley and Amit Tamir respectively. A sub par 67.7% team free throw shooting was overshadowed by a 52.1% field goal shooting, as well as a 37-30 edge in rebounds.

Coach Rob Evans called this victory a good one. "We beat a very good Cal team. We battled hard on defense, and took control of the game in the first 10-12 minutes of the second half. We missed some free throws, but when you play consistent defense you win. The full court pressure wore them down…this was a good effort against a ranked team." The ASU coach mentioned the fine defensive job by Smith and Braxton, and really sung the praises of Knight. "Donnell has played well all season. He's coming into his own. He played tough and very aggressive on defense, and really gave us a lift. He stepped up and made big shots." Evans made sure to mention the good job on offense to free up players with all the attention that Diogu receives from opposing defenses. He was also extremely proud of his bench play, and Shawn Redhage in particular. "Shawn has been playing very well. It's great to have a player like that come off the bench. I have a lot of confidence in him." Evans makes a point never to get too high after wins, and was very business like when talking about the Stanford game on Saturday. "There are ten more games to play, and they're a lot of land mines out there." Lastly, he praised the crowd who was easily the loudest it has been this season. "The students being back really made a difference. I'm looking forward to having the home fans here on Saturday."

Even prior to Stanford's improbable win at Tucson tonight, the game against the Cardinal was going to be every bit as tough as the Cal one. Despite the resounding statement ASU made tonight, they need to quickly forget about this victory, and adequately prepare for a solid Basketball team who's only one game out of first place. Statements are nice, but consistency speaks even louder as to how far a team has come along. On Saturday, the Sun Devils will have another opportunity to prove that this squad is on the right path for their best season in years.

Sparky's Sundries National Anthem singer Jason Paris better not go on the "American Idol" TV show. His extraordinary talent would put the shame all the hacks that appear on that program…Nice touch with the players' introduction playing the classic "Eye of the Tiger" song. The Sun Devils were ready for a fight…as mentioned; the Sun Devils crowd was out in droves and in mid-season form. This bodes very well for this Hoops team which plays six out of its next ten games at Wells Fargo Arena…Even though ASU's dance team was under the opposite basket, someone should tell them not to make noise during ASU's free throws…Milage had one his best games in the maroon and gold, but one can only imagine how much he could have scored if he played the point guard position less…It was painful seeing some of the entry passes thrown to Diogu. At least three of them resulted in turnovers…Ex-Sun Devil Tyson Johnston was spotted in the student section talking extensively with ASU's Super Fan who was sporting a purple Mohawk haircut tonight. The Student section represented very well, and one can only hope that it will continue to do so. Its support was invaluable in this game.

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