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Men's Hoops: All bets off for UA-ASU tilt

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Cal's Dominic McGuire (3) and Rod Benson try to stop ASU's Ike Diogu from scoring during ASU's 79-70 win over California Jan. 8 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, March 4, 2005
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When it comes to the Arizona-ASU men's basketball rivalry, throw all the numbers out the window.

After all, No. 11 Arizona has won 19 of the series' last 20 games. ASU hasn't come within eight points in their last seven losses to the Wildcats, losing by an average margin of 16.4 points per game.

But what the Sun Devils do have is probable All-American and national player of the year candidate Ike Diogu.

Diogu, a 6-foot-8 junior center, is averaging 22.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game this season, leading the Pacific 10 Conference in both categories.

"A lot of the things they do revolve around Ike Diogu really getting off," said Arizona sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur.

Diogu is so crucial to ASU because he lacks any help around him - only one other Sun Devils starter averages more than 10 points a game.

"I think its pretty obvious with ASU, with as good of a player that Ike is, you almost have to figure that he has to touch it every time down," said head coach Lute Olson.

When Diogu does touch the ball, good things usually happen for ASU, as was proved in its first meeting with the Wildcats this season, when Diogu scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Diogu came out of the gate knocking down perimeter shots before going down to the box to bang against Arizona senior center Channing Frye and sophomore forward Ivan Radenovic.

"He's a double-double player," Radenovic said. "The most important thing is to start playing hard with him right away, try to push him out, force him to take bad shots and box him out because his best game is offensive rebounding and scoring inside."

If it gets too tough inside for Diogu, a rare but increasingly common sight because of double and triple teams, he can kick it out to improved but still suspect Sun Devil perimeter players.

"It appears that they're going more and more to getting the ball inside to Ike, in watching their recent games," Olson said. "It seems like every time down court it's in his hands. Whether or not it comes back out is depending if you're doubling or what's happening on the court."

The ASU backcourt features senior guard Jason Braxton, who starts the 100th game of his career Saturday, and second-leading scorer Kevin Kruger.

Steve Moore, who has played excellent off the bench, also joins the group.

"It looks like they've added shooters to their team that (have) really helped them," Olson said.

ASU started out the season on a roll, winning 11 of their first 12 games before they faced the Wildcats on Jan. 2.

While the Sun Devils were able to run with their first 12 opponents, they were unable to stop the Arizona fast break, which led to 97 Wildcat points.

"We like to have people try to outrun us. That's our style and that's the way we're used to playing," Olson said.

The Sun Devils kept it close until halftime, hanging within five points, until the Wildcats' depth wore out ASU.

"I don't know if they're really accustomed to running like that," said junior forward Hassan Adams. "They try to."

Following that game, the Sun Devils have won only seven of 16 games and never regained their early momentum.

Regardless, Olson said the Sun Devils have more to play for than just a rivalry. "Things can still be on the line for ASU. Certainly, there will be implications as far as postseason play," he said.

Much has changed since that first meeting in McKale Center - mostly good for the Wildcats and mostly bad for the Sun Devils - but ASU has a chance to change all that with one game.

"We're a lot better and I'm sure he'd (ASU head coach Rob Evans) say they're a lot better, too," Olson said. "We'll get a chance to see which team has improved the most."

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