ASU is struggling, but they're still a dangerous team. They've lost four straight, but all four of the games were on the road. Their last victory was at home, against Oregon State, and you'd think that coming home after a tough stint on the road they'd be primed to get back in the win column. In fact, at home, the Sun Devils are 6-5.
ASU is also dangerous because they've shown flashes of good play throughout an erratic season. Last Saturday in Berkeley they almost beat Cal, which is currently the team in second place in the Pac-10. They played Oregon fairly close a few weeks ago. They beat probably the only more erratic team in the conference, USC, by 15 on the road. The Bruins beat ASU in their first meeting at Pauley, 66-58, but it wasn't easy.
ASU can be pretty tough in any game mainly because it has the best inside scorer in the conference, Ike Diogu, who is averaging a conference-best 22.7 points a game. In its first meeting with the Sun Devils, UCLA did a good job of containing Diogu, doubling and tripling him in the post which limited him to 15 points and 3-of-14 shooting. The Bruins will again put as many bodies on Diogu as possible and make the other Sun Devils beat them.
The other guy who has the best chance of doing that would be Steve Moore, the 6-3, athletic shooting guard. Moore is averaging 13 points a game, but has been in a bit of a shooting slump recently. You can probably expect Moore to get back on track returning home tonight.
ASU has been going with a three-guard lineup with the return of freshman guard Tron Smith from injury. Smith, Braxton and Moore make up a very athletic perimeter for ASU.
A player who has also been contributing is Kevin Kruger, the 6-2 freshman guard who has subbed in for Braxton in the lineup and produced. Even though he hasn't gotten a great deal of minutes lately, 6-7 bruiser Serge Angounou can be tough inside and step out and hit a jump shot. In the last few games, 6-7 forward Wilfried Fameni has gotten most of the bruiser-off-the-bench minutes.
Arizona State is like a few other teams in the conference, made up of some young athletes, which causes them to be very unpredictable. It also causes them to be sporadic in their defense. Teams that are patient on offense have generally been able to dictate their game against ASU. UCLA doesn't have the athleticism, particularly the backcourt quickness, to match up with ASU, so the Bruins will have to be disciplined on offense and wait for an ASU breakdown. The Sun Devils should throw some zone at UCLA, even though lately UCLA has seen less as they've shown improvement against it. ASU's personnel is probably better suited for man and are more comfortable that way. UCLA, defensively, while they'll struggle on the perimeter to contain Arizona State's guards, displayed in the first game between the two teams that they have the players on the interior to limit Diogu. With two seven-footers and ten fouls between the two of them, and some defensive help from some long-armed wings, if UCLA can again control Diogu, they'll win. It will also be a question of whether UCLA can, on the road, maintain the competitiveness they regained last week at home.