"They like to do a lot of the same things." Says the Sun Devil coach, "They like to dictate tempo with their offense and defense. We like to do a lot of the same things." Another similarity is a strong presence in the middle. Memphis features JC transfer Chris Massie who not only reminds you of Ike Diogu by stature, but also hails from the lone star state. "That's one of the key matchups in the game. Both of those guys are marquee players. But they're a lot of other key matchups. (Antonio) Burks is a huge key for us, and we have to do a good job on him. They got size on the basketball team so we have to match up with that size. Guard play will be key. The last 15 games Curtis Millage has been playing as well as anyone in this league, averaging 21 points a game and playing very well."
Evans and his staff watched films of their next opponent late last night, and the fifth year coach shared his first impressions. "They're good on the glass, and a good transition team. They're a lot like Oregon in their transition game. We've got to be ready to battle them on the glass because they're a very physical team." Evans mentioned that his scouting effort will consist of watching 15 tapes, and talking to nine coaches, in addition to a scouting report prepared by one of his assistants. "We have another coach looking at the next two opponents (Kansas and Utah State), but we don't talk about the other opponent until we finish the game. We've done that all year long." Nevertheless, Evans says that all the prep work in the world can never compensate for lack of familiarity. "When you're in a league with someone, you know all their tendencies. It's tough to scout someone that you haven't played them all year long." On his relationship with opposing coach John Calipari he said: "John and I go a long way. I don't go out to dinner with him, but I don't go to dinner with a lot of coaches. I have a healthy respect for him and I believe he has a healthy respect for me."
It has been eight years since an ASU team has been part of March madness, thus none of the players on the roster experienced this spectacle. Evans realizes that the challenge to be focused amid the hoopla surrounding the post-season is a very tall order. "It's a difficult assignment because these guys haven't been there before. It's my 17th time there. I'm not playing, but I can certainly relay to them (his experiences) and we constantly talk to them about it." The no-nonsense attitude displayed by this ASU team through out the season, should prove invaluable this time of year. "These guys have been pretty business like. I understand that this the NCAA tournament. But every game we've played whether it was a huge ball game…they just come to work. When you have a guy with the demeanor of an Ike Diogu…this is guy that is very mature. Against Oregon he calmed down our guys and told them ‘take it easy…we'll be all right.' That's pretty good coming from a freshman. It's gonna be exciting, but it's up to us coaches to help them concentrate. Once you play basketball, and get to the floor all the hype is over with."
One disturbing trend in the last two ASU games was the lack or production from the bench. Evans says there's a good reason behind it. "I'm not disappointed. I shortened the bench on purpose. It's not so much what they (the bench players) weren't doing, but I wanted to make sure that we have our best people on the floor and we make it to the NCAA tournament. We haven't been to the tournament, and I wanted to make sure that I did everything as a coach to get there. We will lengthen our bench in the tournament. Jamal Hill has been playing well and he can help us, and I can go down the line with some other guys. I'm gonna try to get some guys some rest, and get production from the bench."
On the other hand his starters have been instrumental in the team's success the last several contests. Evans makes sure to emphasis that his team isn't a one-man show like many tend to believe. "Ike hasn't carried the load for us all the time. He's played extremely well, but Curtis Millage has stepped up his game tremendously. We're in this position because Tommy Smith played good basketball in the last two three weeks. It's very important for Tommy to continue that, and I believe he will because he's playing relaxed and he's confident…Shawn Redhage is a guy playing with a lot of confidence. It's important that we have three or four players that are offensively very efficient. We can't rely on just Curtis and Ike."
Many games in the big dance come down to the last shot of the game, and if the Devils are in that scenario Evans knows which one of his players does he want to place the ball with. "I like the basketball in Curtis Millage's hands. He can create off the dribble, he can shoot, and he can make free throws. He's one of the guys I like the ball in his hands. Of course Ike Diogu is a good free throw shooter. He can make shots and finish plays just like he did against Oregon. Those are two of the guys. In the past we had situations like that, and we're trying to figure out who do we want to give the ball too. Last year, we tried to get the ball to Chad Prewitt on the perimeter. So it's nice that you can go a couple of different ways."
One issue that is weighing heavy on the minds of the Sun Devils team, as well as on the American people, is the imminent war with Iraq. The NCAA vowed not to halt the tournament if and when a war broke out in the next few weeks. Evans tends to agree with that action. "We always talk a lot about that and current events. It's something that we're very concerned about, as everybody should be. As the President told everybody, we need to continue the things that we're doing and if they (NCAA) decide to play, then we'll play. Certainly, we understand that what we're doing is insignificant as compared to what's going on in the world."
Senior forward Shawn Redhage offered his own scouting report of the Tigers. "We know they're a great team. We'll have to be ready to play them especially on the defensive end. They got great athletes, and we're looking forward to the matchup…they have a great post player in (Chris) Massey. He's a big and physical guy, so we have to be ready for him. But they have guys that can shoot the ball too. They have a well rounded team."
Redhage, like the rest of his teammates is experiencing the NCAA tournament for the first time. Nevertheless, nervousness shouldn't be an issue to this Lincoln, Nebraska native. "We played in a lot of ball games, especially the seniors, so we'll be ready. The first five minutes you may have some jitters, but once you start playing it's the same game that you played ever since you were five years old. We're gonna be ready."
Despite only starting in five games this year, Redhage is enjoying his best career year. He explains why. "I think I'm feeling more comfortable in the offense, and teammates are giving me the ball in spots where I can be successful. When that happens, I'm getting more playing time, so it's just a combination of a lot of things. I'm definitely feeling confident out there, and I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win." When we asked him if it was rewarding or frustrating to achieve all this during his last season of eligibility, he replied: "Coach says that if you put in the hard work, good things will come. I'm just reaping a lot of hard work I put in through out the years. This is the time when you want to play your best, so I'm just excited to go in the NCAA tournament and do the best I can do."
The senior says that the team has been able to settle down since selection Sunday. "Yesterday we were excited, but when we woke up this morning we knew we had to go back to work and get ready for Memphis. We're just going to work everyday trying to get better. We know we know can play with the best teams in the country, we just have to be consistent for 40 minutes to be able to accomplish what we want done."
Memphis Reminds Evans of Own Team
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