Basketball Team Emphasizes ‘Mental Aspect'

To say this last week of the regular season is crucial for the Sun Devils would be an understatement. In all probability, nothing short of a sweep of the Oregon schools would assure an invitation to the NCAA tournament. Thus, the magnitude of these games requires somewhat of a shift in the days leading up to the last home games of the season.

"We've been working more on the mental aspect," Says head coach Rob Evans, "Because it's down to the last week of the regular season. These guys know what to do as far as X's and O's. They know what to do physically. Now. It's just a matter of coming out and mentally doing what we need to do. We've done a lot of work off the floor to get ready for this week." Evans does dismiss the notion that his squad is under more than usual pressure for this week's games. "We've had pressure since September 13th when we started this. This is nothing different than the time we started this. There's pressure on this ball game and every ball game. We went on the road wanting to win a couple of ball games. We didn't get it done, so now we have to come back home and see if we can't fix it."

The fifth year coach exclaimed that the team's psyche is also intact these days. "Mentally we're in good shape. We've been through this situation before. We played against three really good teams – The #1 team in the country, and the #2 and #3 team in our league on the road. We played pretty good on the road, and had chances in both of those games. It's not so much what we did, but more what the opposition did. So, we have a good mind set." When asked his opponent on Thursday he says, "Oregon is a good Basketball team. They've been to the tournament the last couple of years. They have great players, great guard play…they're coming off a couple of home wins. We have to come ready to play them to defeat them." He went on and paid lofty compliments to the Ducks' star Luke Ridnour. "He's a very smart player. He's everything you want in a Basketball player."

ASU star Ike Diogu sat out portion of Tuesday's practice, but Evans said that it was nothing than a precautionary measure. "Ike has a bruised toe, so we didn't want him going up and down irritating the toe. He can play." Evans did shake up the starting lineup In the last game, starting Kyle Dodd and Shawn Redhage. Look for the Sun Devils to have the same personnel on Thursday. "Right now I'll continue with that lineup. That can change from day to day depending on what I see in practice, but I like what I see. We just need more from the guys coming off the bench." With the new starting cast, four of the five players are seniors. With Saturday marking the last regular season home game, the ASU skipper expects emotions to run high for all his players exhausting their eligibility. "I would hope that the seniors would step up every game, and certainly it will be the last time they play at home in regular season play. I would think they'd be emotional and wanting to play well in their last game here at ASU."

Some coaches refuse to talk about their team's post-season prospects, but Rob Evans shared his thoughts on this topic. For starters, he didn't agree or disagree that ASU has to win both these week's games to get into the tournament "I've been in this situation before. The Pac-10 is one of the top leagues in the country, and we ought to get five teams in the tournament. We had some quality wins, and no bad losses. We had ten losses, and nine of them have been to teams that have been ranked at some point. From what I see we played awfully well this year, and we're a team that's capable of doing some damage in the tournament. We just have to get there." Evans agreed with the popular opinion that the power conferences are more dominant this year than the mid-majors and those alike. "I don't think there's any doubt about that. The problem with a league like ours is that we're not playing against the #1 team in the conference; we're playing against the #1 team in the country. All four of the teams ahead of us have been in the top 25. We played Purdue, Utah, and Kentucky and they were all in the top 25. We have a really tough schedule, and we competed against that schedule."

Nevertheless, with all the NCAA tournament talk, Evans didn't disagree with the fact that this lofty goal could be an unwelcome diversion to his team. "It can be a distraction. You can get ahead of yourself. But when you have a veteran club, they know they have to take one game at a time and try to win it. If they win their games, everything else takes care of itself. But you're talking about a program that has been to the tournament twice in two decades. So, they're in a hurry to finish a game and get to the tournament, instead of wanting to win the game. I saw that happen at Mississippi. Everything these players are going through now is new territory for them. So how do they come out this week? I hope they come out confident, but you never know."

"Our seniors have been waiting for a while," Evans recapped "And they hear from everybody ‘you got to do it (get into the tournament)'. You just have to play the next possession, play the next game, and everything will take care of itself. We may been in the tournament already. I say don't wait for an invite – kick the door in and invite yourself."

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