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Last time out: Arizona-Overcame a 20-point deficit in just over four minutes to defeat the ninth-ranked UCLA Bruins in Tucson...ASU-Lost to USC, 81-73, to complete the weekend sweep by the L.A. schools. The Sun Devils probably could have beaten UCLA had it not been for the "Mensa-level" ASU fans throwing pizza and coins at the Bruins during the game. But I guess that's what you come to expect from the fans who once chanted, "P-L-O! P-L-O!" at Steve Kerr after his dad was murdered in Lebanon. Very classy.
Before we get deep into the individual matchups, let me throw this fact out to the Sun Devil fans who are reading this. In order for ASU to tie the all-time series vs. Arizona, all the Sun Devils have to do is win EVERY SINGLE GAME for the next 26 years.
PG-Jason Gardner (5-10, 185 Jr.) vs. Jason Braxton (6-3, 180 Fr.)
*Hmm, let's see. Gardner is a better shooter, he's quicker, he's the ultimate competitor, he has Final Four experience and he has a history of success against ASU (last year he hit a combined 8-12 threes in Arizona's two wins vs. the Sun Devils). Braxton averages four points per game, he can't shoot (37% overall; 28% from deep and a pathetic 39% from the free throw line) and he is under 1:1 with his assist-to-turnover ratio. Wow, this is a toughie. Wait, no it's not.
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona) Huge.
SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180 Fr.) vs. Curtis Millage (6-2, 185 Jr.)
*Millage has been playing pretty well of late, especially since the start of Pac-10 play. He is 14.1 points per game on 48% shooting (40% from three-point range) in the Devils' eight league games but he really struggled against the athleticism and intensity the USC guards threw at him defensively on Saturday. Unfortunately for the JC-transfer Millage, it's going to be more of the same against Stoudamire and his fellow freshman backcourt mate Will Bynum Wednesday night. Salim has been shooting extremely well over the last nine games and shows no signs of looking back now that he's reached this level. Stoudamire is a cool customer and is about as pressure-proof as any freshman I've ever seen that wasn't named Bibby or Gardner.
-EDGE: Stoudamire (Arizona)
SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235 Jr.) vs. Kenny Crandall (6-4, 200 Soph.)
*This is the biggest advantage for Arizona all night. Walton has a distinct size advantage and will use it to Arizona's benefit by taking Crandall into the post for easy turnarounds and/or baby-hooks from the block. And with Walton's all-around game, he brings the most complete package that Crandall has faced all year, easily. Don't get me wrong, Crandall is a serviceable enough player but he struggles against guys like Walton. Against the UCLA duo of Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono, Crandall was only 1-8 from the field (all threes) and couldn't contain anyone defensively. Walton is comparable in size and athleticism to the two Bruins but has an even better all-around game. Crandall could be in some serious trouble here.
-EDGE: Walton (Arizona)
PF-Ricky Anderson (6-9, 220 Jr.) vs. Tommy Smith (6-9, 210 Jr.)
*If I thought for one minute that Tommy Smith wouldn't foul out of this game, I'd consider calling this match-up a "push". But I don't and it's not. Smith has fouled out of NINE games this year and is the poster child for Rob Evans' discipline-free system of play. He just cannot learn to avoid stupid fouls and what's more is that he seems to be getting worse. I like Smith a lot as a player—when he's in the game—but all too often his athleticism and skill (potential skill anyway) isn't on the floor because he just pushed someone out of bounds or slapped someone's arm from three feet away. Even if he were to play the full game, Anderson is still just as good as Smith is, if not better. Anderson is a better shooter, rebounder, passer and ballhandler than the ASU junior and I'm sure he will also find a way to get Smith to foul out of game number 10 Wednesday night as well.
-EDGE: Anderson (Arizona)
C-Channing Frye (6-11, 225 Fr.) vs. Chad Prewitt (6-9, 240 Sr.)
*Prewitt is ASU's best and most reliable player. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding and is probably the team's most consistent player as well. Prewitt always plays well against Arizona and this game should be no different. The problem is that while Prewitt plays well against the Wildcats, the rest of his team normally does not. That's why Prewitt has gone 0-6 in his career vs. Arizona. Matching up against him will be Wildcat freshman phenom Channing Frye. Frye will give Prewitt fits on both ends of the court with his length, his shooting ability (16 consecutive made field goal attempts), his rebounding prowess and his shot blocking ability. The Chandler native Frye will be at his best when he goes back home for this game. However, Prewitt will undoubtedly be at his best as well and this match-up becomes too close to call.
What to look for:
*Awvee Storey coming off the bench for ASU early to provide a more physical presence down low. Storey is considered "the dirtiest player in the Pac-10" by a poll done by Sports Illustrated last year and he has done nothing to improve his image. He constantly takes cheap shots at players driving the lane, he's always in foul trouble, he's in Rob Evans' doghouse seemingly everyday and he's had some domestic abuse problems to top it all off. Here's hoping he gets a little of his own medicine from Wildcat freshmen power players Isaiah Fox and Dennis Latimore (maybe a few "innocent" elbows would do).
*ASU will deploy a three-man perimeter attack with three guys 6-4 or under. This is not a good idea against Arizona this year because of the athleticism Arizona counters with. The Sun Devils really struggled against similar defensive pressure from USC's perimeter defense on Saturday and Arizona's trio of Gardner, Stoudamire and Bynum is even more tenacious. However, where ASU will suffer the most for its three-guard lineup will come against Luke Walton on defense. The chances are slim that the 6-4 Crandall can contain Walton, much less win that match-up.
*Arizona will use motivation from ASU's off-season remarks about this being the year that they finally beat Arizona. ASU has a lot of experience coming back, but the way I figure it is, hey, so does Monmouth. Who cares if the only experience a team has coming back is the experience of playing horrible basketball? To paint an even clearer picture, think of it this way: If Isaiah Fox was on ASU's team, he might be the Sun Devil's best player.
*Luke Walton, Jason Gardner and Rick Anderson finding a way for Arizona to win this game. At the press conference on Monday, someone asked Walton about the state of the rivalry between Arizona and ASU, seeing as how Arizona has won the last 12 games and 26 of the past 30 meetings. Walton said that it definitely was still a rivalry, especially since "those guys have been talking all off-season about how this was the year they were going to beat us…I'll tell you right now that we aren't going to let that happen. There will NOT be a letdown (from UCLA)."
I'll tell you what, I'll believe Luke Walton on this one.
Prediction: Arizona 84, ASU 68.
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