"That's a very good basketball team," said ASU junior guard Jamelle McMillan. "Lots of athletes on that squad. Last year we beat them by a Taylor Rhode three really…they definitely have our attention and we know what's at stake.
ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek has gone on record several times this season discussing the need for improvement on the boards. That aspect will be severely tested on Saturday against a San Diego State team that has a 7.5 rebound advantage per game, and is a perfect 8-0 when winning the battle on the glass. It also averages 11 offensive rebounds per game.
Sendek acknowledged that his team won't have the same rebounding prowess as the Aztecs, and that the Sun Devils' rebounding effort against them will have to be better than it has been so far against other ASU opponents this season.
"They are long, they are big and they are athletic," Sendek commented on the Aztecs. "They score inside and out. Their defense creates turnovers and ignites their offense. We saw how that really hurt us in the first half against BYU so we are really going have to take care of the ball to not let them get easy offensive baskets.
"They are tremendous on the glass. I don't know that our team is built to be dominant on the boards. If we can be neutral on the boards. If we can be somewhat competitive or in the neighborhood on the boards, hopefully the way we are put together we will have advantages in other areas."
So what will it take in order not to lose the battle on the glass?
"It's the same song and dance," McMillan replied. "We have to find a way to rebound positions 1 through 5. We don't have any other choice. It's something that we addressed. We have ‘block out' signs all over the building. It's on us. It's just the will and determination to get the ball.
One player who can help the rebounding cause is 6-7 forward Victor Rudd. While his eligibility was examined by the NCAA's clearinghouse, the true freshman missed valuable pre-season practice time, as well as his team's first four regular season games.
Slowly but surely, Rudd has been catching up and in ASU's last outing against Delaware State he made 6 of 7 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3-point beyond the arc to go along with four rebounds and blocked two shots.
"I think Victor's going to get better and eventually will be a terrific player for us," Sendek remarked. "He's made fast progress given the short amount of time he's been on the floor. He has a great attitude and he's a very talented young man."
"Victor is getting a lot of confidence," McMillan said. "He is a force that we can use. He's a big guy that can handle the ball. He poses a big threat to smaller guards. And we can use all the rebounding we can get, and with his athleticism – he can touch the back of the backboard.
"I'm extremely proud of the way he has progressed. He's learning. He's really just diving in and trying to be a part of what we want to do. He wants to be out there. He wants to please the fans. He wants to work with his teammates. A guy like that you have to appreciate as a teammate."
In-season practice time was almost scarce last month as the maroon and gold played seven games in 17 days. December has been better in that regard. ASU last played on Saturday the 12th and Sendek has embraced the opportunity to practice a few times this week. "We have been able to get back to some fundamentals and I think that's what our team needed a great deal at this point," he said
Nonetheless, Sendek has been pleased with the team's chemistry and attitude in the current campaign.
"I think they (the players) genuinely like each other," Sendek stated. "But the real essential part of chemistry is being able to play together. It's easier sometimes to talk in the locker room, than it is on the floor. We're very much a work in progress being a team on the floor."
With its 7-3 record, Sendek stated that he felt his squad has had its ups and downs thus far, and while it has been able to put together impressive halves of a game, he doesn't feel as if they have yet played well for the entire 40 minutes.
"We've have some bright moments," Sendek admitted, "we obviously took it on the chin a few times. but I think our team is progressing nicely."
ASU's improvement cannot stall now, especially with its first league game less than two weeks away.
"It's going to be very important that we close out these next three games going into the Pac-10 season," McMillan pointed out. "Our veterans know how the Pac-10 season can be. Those are one, two, three point games every night. It's tough.
"It's very important for our young guys to get some confidence before a long season in the Pac-10."