Arizona Hoops Preview

For the first time ever, a #1 ranked opponent will visit sold-out Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday to take on the upstart Sun Devils. Who else could it be but the Arizona Wildcats? This much-anticipated game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Arizona at 7 p.m. MST. DevilsDigest.com previews this in-state matchup.

If you're a sports fan and you live in Arizona or are in any way, shape, or form connected with either Arizona State University (17-7 overall; 9-4 Pac-10) or the University of Arizona (20-12; 12-1) you know about the big basketball game this weekend.

Perhaps you're lucky enough to hold tickets to the game. You may have even been one of the fans that helped ASU sell out a standing-room only allotment of tickets in a mere 25 minutes on Tuesday.

It's possible even, that you're one of the many local professional athletes or celebrities who'll be shut out from the game after trying to get tickets through the athletic department and failing.

By now you're probably accustomed to the straight up meat and potatoes game previews that usually appear in this space.

You'd generally be reading about the fact that Arizona and Arizona State are ranked one and two in the Pac-10 in margin of victory and playing the best basketball in the conference. You'd learn that Arizona State has the best field goal percentage in the conference and see that Arizona scores more points per contest than any team in the league.

And all of that may be important, but not now, not in this game. Throw all the stats you're been pouring over out the window. Do it now.

This game is going to come down to who wants it more. It's that simple. Kill or be killed, that's how it's going to be.

These players know what each team is going to try to accomplish on the court. The coaches do too. Arizona is going to pack it in tight on Ike Diogu, play their patented 1-3-1 match-up zone and try to create turnovers, get out and run, and put up a big run, or two, on the Devils. ASU is going to try and pound the ball inside to Diogu relentlessly in order to establish the team's finicky shooters along the perimeter and in the gaps of the zone. The Sun Devils will attempt to play lock-down man-to-man pressure defense and keep Arizona off-balance and out of their offense.

But this game is about so much more than that. It's about four Sun Devil seniors who've been in the program for four years and are trying to finish their careers on a high note. Nothing would be sweeter than beating the #1-ranked Wildcats in what could very well be their last meeting with the team.

It's about Kyle Dodd, Shawn Redhage, Donnell Knight and Tommy Smith. It's about the foundation. Say what you want about these players. All have been maligned at times in their time at ASU, and sometimes deservedly so. But these players deserve recognition. All will graduate from the University this year. All were good and decent representatives of the program. All have paved the way for the more talented players that will follow.

These players and junior college transfers Curtis Millage and Chris Osborne will only wear a Sun Devil uniform for another month, give or take, and what better way to send themselves off then with a victory over their top-ranked in-state rival?

This game is about Arizona seniors Jason Gardner and Luke Walton. They're fierce competitors and you won't have to remind them about the beating they took in Tempe last year. These players don't want to finish their careers with a loss in what might be the final game against their neighbor from the north.

Most of all this game is about the "gap" and more precisely, the size of this so-called "gap." Arizona wins and their fans will pound their chests, slap each other on their backs and proclaim the status quo alive and well. They'd do it, and perhaps rightfully so.

But another loss would change everything and shift the paradigm. Two games out of five sounds quite different than one in five. This game is about opportunity. Especially when the best player on this Sun Devil team is a freshman, Ike Diogu, and the talent level of the last two recruiting classes is far superior to that of any period in the previous decade.

Wildcat fans may not say it, but a Sun Devil win would plant a seed of doubt. Not in the perceived ability of their coach, their team, but in the ability of the Arizona program to maintain the dominance over their so-called in-state rival over the last 20 years.

The game is about closing the Grand Canyon-sized "gap" that currently exists between the two programs. It's about doing it face-to-face, man to man. It's something that must be done directly, and purposely.

It's something that every Sun Devil player and coach dreams about. There's no question about that. The better question is how badly Arizona players and coaches want to keep it from happening. It's about how want to further their agenda more.

That's why statistics mean nothing in this game. That's why nobody should care if Ike Diogu has averaged over 20 points and nine rebounds over the past 6 games, at least not now. Nobody should care that Luke Walton is putting up some of the worst numbers of his career because of an ankle injury that may require surgery after the season. It's irrelevant on Saturday.

So just throw all that stuff out the window. It won't matter here. This game is about winning. It's about opportunity. On Saturday we'll find out who wants it more.

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