Torrid Second Half Nets Win Over Ducks

ASU coach Rob Evans said this week that he doesn't want to wait for an invite from the NCAA tournament selection committee, but rather "kick the door in and invite yourself." Following tonight's 91-77 win over Oregon, if that proverbial door isn't laying flat on its back it's definitely starting to come off its hinges.

Two very distinct halves marked this game. In the first twenty minutes, the visitors from Eugene literally led the entire period. The Ducks' Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson helped propel their team to a 21-18 lead at the 11:01 mark. The Devils' Curtis Milage fueled an 8-2 ASU rally to grab a 26-23 lead with 8:36 left in the half. Ridnour answered by scoring14 of his 20 first half points aiding Oregon to relinquish the lead and go down to the locker room with 45-41 advantage. It has been said time and time again, that those crucial first five minutes of the second half usually determine the outcome of a game. Luckily for the Sun Devils, that theory worked to perfection once again. ASU's Tommy Smith engineered a 17-3 rally to bring the Sun Devils to a 58-48 lead at the 15:11 mark of the second half. The home team had a hard time shaking off Oregon, but the Ducks never came closer than four points to threaten ASU's lead. A Millage lay-up with 2:18 left put the Devils ahead 78-67, and even the parade of fouls and useless timeouts by Oregon couldn't cut down the deficit to single digits.

Millage led all scorers tying a career high 27 points, shooting 9-10 from the line and picking the opponent's pocket three times. Smith had a double-double tying his career high 24 points, while adding 11 rebounds and four blocks. He also had a team high five assists. Ike Diogu kept his season long double digit scoring streak with 17, and had a career high 14 boards. The last Sun Devil in double figures was Shawn Redhage who had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. After allowing Oregon to shoot 51.5% in the first half, the Devils' second period suffocating defense limited the Ducks to only 31.3% and 41.5% overall. The Devils shot 51.6%, and were a solid 75% from the charity stripe. ASU's 40-34 rebounding edge and eight blocks are other numbers that manifest what was probably the team's best defensive performance this year against a quality conference opponent.

Coach Evans called this contest "A great basketball game by two NCAA tournament teams…it was a war and our experience helped us tough it out. We played tougher, and kept on battling. Tommy Smith showed what he's made of. Smith and Millage really stood out in my eyes." Evans acknowledged the headaches that Ridnour caused his team tonight. "We made him work hard for his shots, and he scored six points in the second half. We tried to take away his threes, but he's difficult to guard. He's a very though kid that will play in the next level." The inevitable question came up as to if this win secured ASU's spot once and for all in March Madness. Evans replied: "I thought we were in before this game. I hope we're in now. We have quality wins, no bad losses, and we played a quality schedule. But I don't bank on anything. We just need to continue winning." The ASU coach praised the 9,441 in attendance who undoubtley help rally the team in the second half. "The crowd was unbelievable. To be a successful team you have to win your home games. Your players won't be at that magic level every home game, and the fans have to help them get to that level."

One could argue that seniors such as Millage, Smith and Redhage played with a sense of urgency tonight, as they approach what should be their last home game on the ASU campus. Evans said that his seniors chose ASU back when they could have gone to other schools, and came to Tempe "With a dream and a belief to do something special here." Well, if that something special is reaching the NCAA tournament then the Sun Devils may have achieved that objective tonight. The consensus seems to be that a win on Saturday against Oregon State, would permanently remove the Devils from that dreaded tournament bubble. Furthermore, a victory against the Beavers would be the prefect ending for the Sun Devils seniors, who have contributed to what has been indeed a special 2002-2003 campaign.

Sparky's Sundries Once again both teams were subjected to horrible officiating. Missed call after missed call and indecision were the staples of the dreadful performance by the striped shirt men…Jeers also go to the ASU Pep Band, who never seems to time the fight song playing right when the team arrived on the court for pre-game warm-ups. The sound system person had also a difficult time adjusting the volume level during video board messages and playing the dance team's musical numbers. We all wish we had earplugs handy tonight…one of the brightest moments of the game actually occurred minutes before tip-off. Jordan Sparks, the daughter of ex-ASU Football great Phillip Sparks, sang one the best renditions ever of our national anthem and received a lengthy and warm ovation. Hard to believe that this heavenly voice is coming from a 13-year old…another loud and prolonged applause was given when NBA all-star and Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion entered Wells Fargo Arena. Marion was sporting a vintage (and we mean vintage!) Brett Favre Atlanta Falcons jersey… Phil Root (aka ASU Superfan) had a busy night in the rowdy students' section (which once again received kudos from Evans). Prior to the game, Oregon coach Ernie Kent wrongfully told security guards that Root was yelling profanities at him. Oddly enough Kent backed down from that claim when he talked to Root personally. Late in the second half, Root's bad luck continued when he was wrongfully ejected (at least according to those sitting next to him) because of lewd actions of another fellow student. While the student section has been tremendous in its support all year, the few individuals who feel the urge to use profanity, will always manage to bring this entire group down. Here's to a ruckus but also respectful display by the students on Saturday…

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