The Bruins, on one hand, are over-achieving. On the other hand, their four conference wins have come against teams with a combined conference record of 4-10. ASU itself probably belongs in just about the same realm as the four teams UCLA has beeaten – Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. The Sun Devils have yet to get a conference win, coming the closest this last Thursday when they almost upset #3-ranked Stanford in Tempe, losing 63-62. They then lost to California soundly on Saturday, 74-62, and got blown out by Arizona the week before, 93-74.
Arizona State isn't a great team, but the typical Pac-10 team this year – talented in spots, young, struggling and under-achieving. They have yet to win a game on the road so far this season, losing away games to both Nebraska and Northwestern.
The Sun Devils begin and end with an All-American in 6-8 sophomore post player Ike Diogu. He currently leads the Pac-10 in scoring, averaging 23.4 per game, and is third in rebounding, pulling down 9.1 rebounds a game. He presents probably the toughest individual matchup for UCLA yet this season, being the type of player you like to call a "beast" down low, weighing 250 pounds, but having very good quickness and soft hands. The scariest thing about him is that he's still raw, getting it done on pure ability and power alone. When he refines his skills, well, he'll be in the NBA, and possibly before that.
The second-leading scorer on the team is a player well-known in Southern California, 6-4 junior shooting guard Stevie Moore. Moore, a lefty, came out of Compton Domiguez it seems like a decade ago, has bounced around, went to a JC, and now is playing like an all Pac-10 player at ASU, averaging 15.5 points a game while shooting 40% from three. Moore is extremely athletic, has a motor that doesn't stop, and can really get hot from the outside.
Moore and Diogu are playing, between the two of them, a ton of minutes, with head coach Rob Evans pretty well aware that with either of them out of the game the Sun Devils don't have much firepower. In fact, in the last two games, Diogu has sat out just two minutes.
Junior point guard Jason Braxton is a great athlete, with great quickness for his size at 6-2. He's averaging 6.7 points while also dishing out five assists a game, and has taken care of the ball fairly well this year. The athleticism of Moore and Braxton could possibly present the biggest challenge yet this season for UCLA's backcourt defensively.
6-7 sophomore Allen Morrill has started recently, but is only averaging 14 minutes a game. He's not a real scoring threat, having not yet scored in double figures in a game this year, and is mostly used as a big body at 223 pounds.
6-8 senior Justin Allen started at center for the homestand against the Bay Area schools last weekend, but plays only 11 minutes a game and gets pulled very quickly after the opening tip.
The guy they're now relying on to fill those frontcourt minutes is 6-7, 235-lb. redshirt freshman forward Serge Angounou. Angounou is well put together, and looks about 28 years old. He goes inside and outside, strong enough to body up down low but with decent enough skills to step out occasionally. Angounou hasn't played since early last season because of injury until last weekend, but averaged 25 minutes in last weekend's games. He's still rusty, but is a strong force on the boards and a physical presence around the basket.
Senior guard Jamal Hill comes off the bench to provide solid minutes, averaging 7. 2 points a game while also providing some decent outside shooting. 6-7 freshman forward Wilfried Fameni was getting more minutes early on, but has seen those pulled back as of late; he's a decent player around the basket and a solid rebounder. After those two, ASU uses its bench pretty randomly, at any time going with any among senior guard Kenny Crandall, a decent shooter; 6-2 freshman guard Kevin Kruger and 6-8 freshman center Keith Wooden. They really miss the presence of freshman guard Tron Smith, who is out with a broken nose.
ASU is an interior-oriented team, with Diogu, but also likes to send waves of its 6-7 and 230-lb. types inside to get rebounds and putbacks. They're a pretty decent team defensively because of their bulk, limiting opponents from getting a lot of looks inside and relying on the quickness of Moore and Braxton to harrass opponents' shooters. On offense, while they beat you up outside they look for Moore to shoot from the perimeter. The problem has been that, without many scorers, opposing teams have been able to double Diogu, and keep him from beating you, while then shadowing Moore.
If UCLA can play the type of defense it has so far this season against the Sun Devils, it should severely limit ASU from scoring much, of course, after giving Diogu gets his 24 for the night. With UCLA's defense keeping it easily in the game, UCLA presents some tough matchups defensively for ASU, specifically T.J. Cummings and Trevor Ariza. Their ability to step away and shoot the ball will exploit ASU's slower-footed forwards defensively.
UCLA will have to stay sharp, focused and intense tonight, and not look past ASU to Arizona on Saturday. But even though ASU gave Stanford a run, they just don't have the overall firepower to stay with UCLA on the road.