Arizona State (7-8, 18-9) at #14 Washington (11-3, 21-4) Bank of America - Thursday, February 25 7:30 PM (FSN) First meeting: January 30, 2005 @ Tempe – UW 79, ASU 70 Series in Seattle: UW leads 14-13 Overall Series: Arizona State leads 33-23
It's just the kind of scenario that's Husky-perfect for becoming NCAA-ready. For if Washington – one game behind Arizona in the loss column with four to play - still harbors hope of earning at least a share of the PAC-10 conference regular-season title, there is probably no more room for error (considering the Wildcats' play of late). To that end, Saturday's visit by the ‘Cats could be meaningless as a title goal if UDub can't take care of Thursday's business first.
In tournament parlance, this is a good an in-season "survive-and-advance" lesson as you can get.
And the Sun Devils are coming into Seattle with some survival notions of their own.
A home sweep of the Oregon schools has rekindled Arizona State's own flagging NCAA hopes to a tiny flicker – and perhaps given embattled seventh-year Sun Devil coach Rob Evans a new lease on his job. University president Michael Crow even paid the victors a congratulatory visit in the locker room after Saturday's 66-56 come-from-behind win over the Ducks.
But no PAC-10 team has ever gone 9-9 in conference and made the NCAA tournament. This suggests that ASU may need to sweep their final three games – including Washington and season-ending home date with Arizona – or win a couple of PAC-10 tournament games to get to 21 or so wins just to get a good look from the committee.
It would be hard to imagine Evans getting the boot on a 20-win season. But a good showing in the Northwest is imperative for it to occur. And a poor showing will certainly cause an already restless Tempe following to debate Evans' future more candidly.
"This is a team that's refusing to quit," said Evans after seeing his Devils come from 13 points down to beat Oregon. "When we get all of these guys going at the same time, we're a pretty good basketball team."
Kevin Kruger has started the last four games for the Sun Devils, with Steven Moore (11.9 ppg) now coming off the bench in what has become an eight-man rotation. Combined, Kruger and senior Jason Braxton average eight assists per contest, while Moore can go hot-or-cold as ASU's sixth man - he was held to three points by Oregon State but exploded for 22 against the Ducks. Moore has averaged 19 points in the past four games. Bryson Krueger has hit 49-percent of his three-point tries - third-best in the conference – including 22 of his last 40 long-distance casts.
Sophomore forward Serge Angounou (9.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) has seen his numbers decline recently, but is Arizona State's best athlete. The Cameroon native has four double-doubles on the year.
In the teams' first meeting in January, a raucous gathering of 9500 fans – ASU's second-largest home crowd of the season – cheered a second-half Sun Devil comeback fueled by Kevin Kruger and spiced by some favorable block-charge decisions that saw Lorenzo Romar earn his only (so far) technical foul this season. The resulting freebies and a subsequent Tyrone Jackson three-pointer gave ASU a 43-41 lead, but a suddenly stoked Washington replied with an 11-0 run fueled by a three-point play by Brandon Roy and six points from Jamaal Williams. Nate Robinson's 18 second-half points (23 overall) led the way for the Huskies, who went 22-25 from the stripe to (then) earn a much-needed desert split.
All-everything Ike Diogu certainly didn't have his finest hour that evening, scraping up 14 points and 13 boards while playing the entire 40 minutes. Diogu did score 23 points in his last visit to Seattle, a 90-81 Husky victory in 2004. The probable PAC-10 Player-of-the-Year is set to become the conference's first scoring and rebounding leader since Oregon State's A.C. Green turned the double in 1984/85. Diogu also leads the conference in blocked shots – nobody has ever led the conference in all three categories.
Yes, Saturday's game could be considered a dream. But only if Washington can survive Thursday.
Nothing like a good dress rehearsal for the real Dance.
Game Notes: Will Conroy is just eight assists shy of Chester Dorsey's UW season record of 163. With 436 career dimes, Conroy should certainly surpass Dorsey's career mark of 451 as well before season's end. Nate Robinson is just seven assists shy of cracking Washington's career top ten list … Definition of team rebounding: The Huskies lead the PAC-10 in rebounding margin and offensive boards. Yet their top rebounder (Bobby Jones) is a mere 12th on the league's individual list … Jamaal Williams leads the conference in field-goal percentage (.582), just ahead of Ike Diogu (.571) …
PROBABLE ARIZONA STATE STARTERS POS No. Name HT CL PPG RPG ---------------------------------------------- F 45 Serge Angounou 6-8 SO 9.1 7.1 F 5 Ike Diogu 6-8 JR 22.2 9.7 G 12 Bryson Krueger 6-7 SO 7.3 2.6 G 1 Jason Braxton 6-2 SR 5.3 3.7 (3.7 APG) G 13 Kevin Kruger 6-2 SO 10.5 2.5
Rick Samek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org