ASU Cannot Overcome Balanced Cal Offense

"Having their back to the walls." "Do or die situation." Those clichés and more alike are bound to be heard in Tempe this week, when discussing the Sun Devils' chances to clinch an invitation to the NCAA tournament. The 80-72 loss to the Golden Bears has left Rob Evans' team with even a smaller margin for error in their quest to be part of March Madness.

Shawn Redhage started for the first time this season, and didn't disappoint scoring his team's first nine points. Nonetheless, Cal was still leading, as they did the whole first half, 15-9 at the 13:55 mark. Cal's Amit Tamir was raining threes on the visitors, and the home team enjoyed its biggest lead in the first period 31-22 with 5:45 left in the first half. Curtis Millage led a 14-7 run to tie the score at 38-38 with 30 seconds left. Cal managed a buzzer beater basket to go down to the locker room with a slim 40-38 lead.

In the first few minutes of the second half, it seemed for a moment that ASU was ready to take control of this contest. Millage had three steals in this short time frame, and his five points gave ASU a brief lead 45-42. Bears' senior Joe Shipp, who will likely be named conference Player of the Year, erased his team's deficit and help Cal never relinquish its lead. A rare four-point play by Millage helped ASU shrink the margin to 64-63 with 6:46 left in the game, but that's as close as they got. Shipp, Tamir, and Brian Wethers, another senior who bid farewell to the home crowd assured Cal a split against the Arizona schools, and handed the Sun Devils' their third consecutive loss.

Millage led ASU scorers with 20. Ike Diogu scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half and led all players with nine rebounds. Redhage had 16 points, and Tommy Smith added ten of his own. The Devils were a respected 48.1% from the floor, but allowed Cal to convert 50% of their shots. The home team was unconscious from downtown scoring 9-17, led by Tamir's perfect 5-5 shooting. Once again ASU lost the battle of the boards (28-26), and were hampered by a 68% display from the charity stripe. Shipp led Cal with 21 points, while teammates Tamir and Wethers had 20 each.

If you're a Sun Devil fan who can't stomach much drama and anxiety, then this week won't be a joyous one. ASU faces a crucial home series against the Oregon schools. While a split should assure the Devils their first trip to the big dance since 1995, a sweep would take them off the bubble. If the unthinkable happens and the Sun Devils get swept at home, then nothing short of winning the Pac-10 tournament next week will suffice, thus further extending the anxious waiting, and bringing back those notorious clichés…

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