March 20, 2003
By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com
OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was hype surrounding long-awaited trips back to the Big Dance. There was anticipation for a marquee matchup featuring two of the nation's premier post players. And there was heavy emphasis on the depth of a pair of teams fighting to prolong their seasons.
But for the Sun Devil men's basketball team, everything seemed simple in one of its best second halves of the year that couldn't have possibly come at a more opportune time. Buoyed by a few minor offensive adjustments and increased output from its biggest scoring threats, No. 10-seeded Arizona State blew the doors open at the Ford Center and cruised to an 84-71 victory over No. 7 Memphis in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Once we got them settled down offensively in the second half and once we showed a little bit of patience, they really attacked well and they got the basketball where it needed to go," said Sun Devil head coach Rob Evans, whose team advances in the West Region to face No. 2 Kansas on Saturday night. "I was really pleased with the poise these guys had, especially for their first time in the (NCAA) Tournament."
After fighting through a tiresome first half during which they shot 41.7 percent (15-for-36) from the field and allowed Memphis senior forward Chris Massie to nearly record a double-double, the Sun Devils (20-11) switched to an open-post offense in the second half. When hovering out beyond the perimeter, ASU freshman forward Ike Diogu got several open looks and he also created numerous passing lanes to the basket for his teammates.
Diogu hit two free throws and knocked down a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around senior forward Shawn Redhage's bomb from beyond the arc. He then laid in a bucket on a lob pass from senior shooting guard Curtis Millage.
When all was said and done, the Sun Devils had suddenly turned a one-point halftime deficit into a 45-35 lead with 15:30 remaining on the strength of a 13-0 run over a four-minute stretch.
"When we switched our offense to open-post, that really opened things up," Diogu said. "They stopped crowding me down low and I was able to get some open jump shots. I'm not sure if they thought I could really shoot from out there."
The Tigers (23-7) sliced the margin in half five minutes later when senior center Earl Barron converted a three-point play, before sophomore guard Anthony Rice drained a shot from beyond the arc. But after Evans called a timeout, ASU responded with a 7-2 run that pushed the lead back to double figures.
Diogu and senior forward Tommy Smith both scored on lay-ups and sophomore point guard Jason Braxton sank a three-pointer upon being left wide open from the top of the key. It marked Braxton's fourth three-pointer in 20 tries this season.
Memphis made one final push after cutting the deficit to six points with 1:07 to go, but the Sun Devils went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line in the closing minute to seal the deal. Millage also stepped up his game late by scoring 10 of his 17 points in the final eight minutes.
"It was just a matter of putting it all together and going out there and competing hard for 40 minutes," said Millage, who had a career-high 11 rebounds and a career-high-tying nine assists to come within shouting distance of recording the first triple-double in school history. "It's great playing for the coaching staff and also for a group of guys who want to go out there and play hard. I'm just a little piece of the puzzle."
The Sun Devils finished the game at 52.5 percent (31-for-59) from the field, their best shooting performance since Feb. 13 when they shot 60 percent in a lopsided home win against Southern California. They were also 42.9 percent (6-for-14) from beyond the arc and 72.7 percent (16-for-22) at the charity stripe. ASU committed only nine turnovers, its fewest in the last four games.
The Tigers struggled from nearly everywhere, shooting 36.2 percent (25-for-69) from the field, 25 percent (7-for-28) from three-point range and 66.7 percent (14-for-21) at the line. They committed 12 turnovers.
Massie finished with a team-high 20 points and a game-high 13 rebounds in 38 minutes. Memphis junior guard Antonio Burks had 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field.
GAME NOTES: The Sun Devils hold a 2-1 lead in the all-time series...they improved to 12-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament...ASU is 4-2 this season at neutral sites...Sun Devil senior point guard Kyle Dodd had three assists and he didn't turn the ball over in 28 minutes to give him 57 assists and only nine turnovers in his last 12 games...Smith fouled out for the first time since Feb. 27...Redhage's 18 points were the most he has scored since Feb. 8 when he posted a career-high 29 against Washington. His 13 field-goal attempts and his 37 minutes tied career highs...ASU senior forward Donnell Knight's six points were the most he has scored since Jan. 30 and his 14 minutes were the most he has played since Feb. 27...Diogu has made 29 of his last 40 attempts from the field...Millage is 46-for-52 (88.5 percent) from the free-throw line in his last nine games...Braxton has 16 assists and eight turnovers in his past nine outings.
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By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY - Ike Diogu was Arizona State's freshman sensation all season. He led the way again in the NCAA tournament.
The Pac-10 freshman of the year scored 22 points, including 10 in a key second-half run, and Arizona State beat Memphis 84-71 Thursday night in the first round of the West Regional.
Diogu, who led Arizona State in scoring this season, did it all against Memphis. He shot 9-of-11 from the floor with a variety of post moves and even stepped out to hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 13-0 second-half run that opened up a 10-point lead for the Sun Devils.
"I'm not sure if they really thought I could shoot out there," said Diogu, who went 6-of-6 in the second half before fouling out with just over a minute left.
"Coach (Rob) Evans, when I'm open, has full confidence in me."
"It's tremendous for our school, tremendous for our program. It's gratifying for me but more importantly, it signifies where our program is at and where it's going."
-- Coach Rob Evans
Tenth-seeded Arizona State (20-11) moves on to Saturday's second round against No. 2 seed Kansas, which beat Utah State 64-61.
The win also exorcised an Oklahoma City demon for Sun Devils coach Evans.
Evans was the coach at Mississippi in 1998 when the Rebels came to Oklahoma City for the NCAA tournament but were upset by Valparaiso in the first round on Bryce Drew's famous buzzer beater.
"It's tremendous for our school, tremendous for our program," Evans said. "It's gratifying for me but more importantly, it signifies where our program is at and where it's going."
Senior Tommy Smith appreciates how much Diogu has meant to the Sun Devils.
"When we first got here and weren't winning games, Coach told that us players were on the way who could help," Smith said. "Obviously the players we got helped out tremendously."
Chris Massie scored 20 points and had 13 rebounds for seventh-seeded Memphis (23-7), which came in with high hopes in its first tournament appearance since 1996.
That was also the last time Memphis coach John Calipari was in the tournament. He took Massachusetts to the Final Four before bolting to the NBA for three seasons.
The Tigers won the National Invitational tournament last year when they thought they were snubbed by the NCAA.
Back in the NCAA, Memphis had little go its way Thursday night, shooting just 36 percent from the floor and 7-of-28 on 3-pointers.
"I'm disappointed but I'll be honest with you, they played well," Calipari said. "When they shoot 70 percent in the second half, it's going to be a hard game to win."
The teams were tied or changed leads 15 times in a fast-paced first half before Memphis took a 33-32 lead into halftime.
Diogu took over in the second.
His two free throws started the Sun Devils' game-changing run. He then hit a 3-pointer from the left side of the arc and Redhage followed with another.
Diogu, who hit only seven 3-pointers all season, then made one again from almost the same spot a minute later. He followed that with a nifty up-and-under move past a defender for a layup that made it 45-35 with 15:27 left.
"He plays in control, smart," said Tigers center Earl Barron, who could do little to stop Diogu. "He doesn't try to do anything that he knows he can't do."
"I think he kind of surprised everybody when he started shooting 3s," Memphis' Anthony Rice said.
Memphis cut it to 50-45 on Rice's 3-pointer but after a timeout, Diogu hit another layup, Smith hit a short jumper and Memphis never threatened the lead again.