ASU comes into Pauley after getting clocked by USC on Thursday night. The Sun Devils are missing two key players, 6-4 SO SG/SF Kenny Crandall, their best outside shooter, and 6-5 SR PF Awvee Storey, their most tenacious rebounder and defender and inspirational leader.
Without Crandall, ASU is the worst 3-point shooting team in the conference, and you can bet that UCLA will pack in its zone defense until the Sun Devils prove that they can hit enough shots from beyond the arc to beat the Bruins.
On the other hand, ASU has definite strengths, and they've used those assets to beat Arizona and Oregon this season, so no one should take this team lightly.
ASU has a lot of quick, athletic players and great depth, and they use both to apply 40 minutes of fullcourt man pressure defense. They cause 18 turnovers per game and are 3rd in the Pac-10 in turnover margin. They have some very speedy guards who love to dunk breakaway layups after steals.
Although this team isn't tall, they're 2nd in the Pac-10 in rebounding. They scrap and fight for every ball, and the guards and wings are always under the glass at the offensive end of the floor. This team might not shoot the ball all that well, but they find other ways to score.
ASU does have a problem defending the post if their opponent is patient and accurate enough to get the ball inside consistently. Any team that wants to beat ASU has to get the ball inside and pound them into submission.
Chad Prewitt leads the Sun Devils. He's a 6-9 240 SR C who averages 17.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 2.4 apg while hitting 55.9% of his FGs, 73.4% of his FTs and 37.9% of his 3s. Chad is a mobile redhead who will pop Js from all over the floor or go to the hole with some clever ball fakes, a nice jump hook and a solid turnaround J. He's one of the most versatile offensive post players in the conference. He does not play aggressive d, as he avoids foul trouble at all costs, and he lacks the physical ability to keep Dan Gadzuric from scoring inside. He does have the moves to fake Dan into foul trouble, however…
Curtis Millage, 6-2 175 JR SG (13.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.6 spg, 48% FGs, 74.2% FTs, 31% 3s) is a very quick, athletic guard with great hops. His best offensive move is scoring within 15 feet of the basket by taking his man into the paint off the dribble and then popping the short J. He gets great vertical lift and it's almost impossible for anyone to collar him one on one. He's very effective in transition, and plays very tough defense.
Tommie Smith, 6-10 215 JR PF (12.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.2 bpg, 49.1% FGs, 59.7% FTs, 33.3% 3s), is the most talented Sun Devil, and if he has a breakout game ASU can play with anyone (ask Arizona). Chad might be an all Pac-10 player, but the pro scouts are watching Tommie. He's a remarkable athlete with a huge wingspan. He can shoot and handle the ball like a wing and defend like a C inside. He's inconsistent, however, and foul prone. He is the best dunker in the Pac-10, Fred Jones included.
Jason Braxton, 6-2 180 FR PG (5.1 ppg, 1.9 apg, 40.2% FGs, 36.5% FTs, 33.3% 3s) and Kyle Dodd, 6-0 175 JR PG (3.8 ppg, 2.4 apg, 15.4% 3s) share the point guard duties. Jason starts for now. He's also very quick and athletic, a great dunker even at 6-2, but he's a shaky ballhandler and playmaker and you don't want Jason and Ced Bozeman getting into a FT contest. Neither one could make it past the layup if they were asked to compete with those students at halftime at Pauley. Kyle has a great A/TO ratio (3.7/1), but his shooting touch has deserted him. He's a pretty good athlete himself and a solid defender.
Donnell Knight, 6-7 200 JR SF (4.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 36.4% 3s) was supposed to be a star coming out of h.s., but it didn't happen. He's a slender, hyper-athlete with a good shooting touch from 3 who often plays zero defense and gets lost out on the floor. Donnell is a great mystery; Duke, Arizona, Kentucky and other schools recruited him. He started against USC and might start against the Bruins.
Other players: Chris Osborne, 6-9 240 JR C (2.4 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a big banger with bad hands further limited by injuries, Shawn Redhage, 6-7 225 JR SF/PF (5.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg), a good midrange shooter and banger who has had some double-figure games, Justin Allen, 6-7 225 SO SF (1.6 ppg), a good outside shooter who's recovered from Hodgkin's' Disease, Brad Nahra, 6-4 217 SR SF (1.6 ppg), a walk-on 3-point specialist who hasn't hit many 3s this year, and Tyson Johnston, 7-0 265 JR C, a lumbering big guy.
The Bruins will obviously zone these guys and pack it in, trying to keep Chad, Curtis and Tommie from getting into any kind of comfortable space inside the paint. Curtis and Jason are very quick, and UCLA will have to work hard to keep in front of them as ASU employs both motion and high post sets and will use many screens around the FT line and top of the key to open seams into the paint. This could be a good game for UCLA to employ Ryan Walcott a lot, since he works out against these guys in the summer and has the quickness to stay with them.
On offense, UCLA presumably will do what they did against Arizona: "Build a donut" (Jim Saia's expression, not mine) around Dan at the beginning (spread the floor in a motion set with two guards high, and Jason and Matt flat on the wings, so ASU is forced to cover Dan with only one man) and feed the ball inside as much as possible. The Bruins will mostly employ their 1-4, since they can use Matt at the "1," where he becomes perhaps the most difficult matchup in the country, since no 4s can really guard him when he takes the ball inside. If the Bruins take care of the ball, they ought to be able to inside-outside ASU to death and get a lot of high percentage shots while the Sun Devils are missing too many 3s at the other end.
Of course, UCLA often turns the ball over a lot, and the Bruins can find themselves in a real war if they make 20 unforced errors and the Sun Devils get out in transition and hit a few 3s early. Again, this ASU team is the only Pac-10 squad to have victories over both Arizona and Oregon this season, so you can't dismiss them. They are certainly good enough to get an NIT berth, considering how tough the Pac-10 has been all year long.
I don't believe UCLA will have any "letdown" after the Arizona game. But who really knows with this team?
Prediction: UCLA 81, Arizona State 73.