By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 26, 2006
TEMPE - The blackout at Wells Fargo Arena may have lasted just a few minutes, but the ASU Sun Devils shot the ball like the lights were turned off all night, giving the Wildcats the edge in their 80-70 victory last night.
After starting out red hot and jumping out to a 7-0 lead, the Sun Devils (7-11, 1-8 Pacific 10 Conference) made just one field goal in the last 9:51 of the first half.
Defense was the focus of the Arizona men's basketball team prior to the game, and aside from giving up too many free throw opportunities, the Wildcats (13-6, 6-3) accomplished their goal, holding ASU to 34.5 percent from the field, including a measly 24.1 percent in the first half.
"It was just our intensity," senior guard Hassan Adams said. "We wanted to put them away. We went on a little run and wanted to keep pushing it down their throat."
Aside from freshman forward Jeff Pendergraph and junior guard Kevin Kruger, who combined for more than half of ASU's total points, the other Sun Devils couldn't hit the proverbial side of a barn, shooting 9-of-32 from the field.
While Kruger was lethal from the perimeter, Arizona's defense would not let ASU score in the paint, using the last line of defense, junior center Kirk Walters, to swat away shots. Walters blocked five shots in 25 minutes while playing with four fouls after the 14:33 mark in the second half.
Arizona 80, ASU 70
Hassan Adams, 21 (UA)
Kevin Kruger, 23 (ASU)
UA: 8 (K. Walters 5, H. Adams, M. Tangara, M. Williams)
ASU: 1 (C. Goldstein)
UA had 10 steals, with 6 from H. Adams
"I gotta really thank the guards for funneling in my direction, so I can get a hand up and try to block some shots," Walters said. "That's what I have to do. If I can't block shots, I just have to get my hand up in their face and try to change it and make them uncomfortable when they go up for it."
Junior point guard Mustafa Shakur was in charge of containing Kruger, ASU's leading scorer.
"I thought Mustafa Shakur did a nice job on him, worked and really got through screens, and I thought did an excellent job," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said.
Part of the defensive effort stemmed from Olson uncharacteristically using his entire bench with the exception of walk-on freshman guard David Bagga. Redshirt senior forward Isaiah Fox played 15 minutes, scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds off the pine.
"Coach was saying to make sure that we play hard because he's going to get us in and out of there, and it's important for us to play hard because it gets the other big guys tired physically and mentally," Fox said. "So far its worked for us... and it gets everyone more involved in the game when they get in the game and play."
Redshirt freshman forward Mohamed Tangara and sophomore forward Bret Brielmaier also saw a collective 12 minutes on the floor, not filling up the stat sheet but providing quality minutes to the big man rotation.
To start the second half, Arizona's defense continued to dominate, holding ASU scoreless for almost four minutes until technical fouls assessed to Olson and Shakur sent the Sun Devils to the free throw line.
"We just played harder defense and did a better job in transition," junior forward Ivan Radenovic said.
Sun Devils junior guard Bryson Krueger came off the bench for the second consecutive game and didn't provide the energy ASU head coach Rob Evans probably would have liked. ASU's second leading scorer ended up with 14 points, but 11 came in garbage time with the Wildcats playing matador defense.
Walters scored nine points, his highest output since the UCLA game on Jan.5, and grabbed five rebounds, but his defense turned ASU away time and time again.
"He's big and lanky, and really athletic," Fox said. "He's not just a big man that's just tall and flopping his hands at the ball. He has great timing on his blocks, and he really gets up there.
"You really can't take anything away from Kirk just because he's tall. He's a really athletic guy and he played his [butt] off today."
Arizona's defense forced ASU into 20 turnovers, a number Olson said was still too small, but overall, the still fiery head coach said the defensive effort was superb.
"I thought overall it was a good solid effort for us," Olson said. "Defensively, we're doing a good job."