The intensity didn’t get turned up until the second half, but it was enough to get Arizona State its third straight win and at least some semblance of praise from coach Rob Evans.
Ike Diogu also showed why he is being showered with preseason All-America honors by scoring a career-high 31 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots Saturday to lead the Sun Devils past the University of California-Riverside 77-68 at Wells Fargo Arena.
"Every game is tough," Diogu said. "You’re not always going to be going up against one person and few times today they were throwing three guys at me. So I feel like I have to work every game to get my points."
With three lesser opponents out of the way and three much tougher immediately ahead, some of Evans’ questions are being answered.
"As I’ve said before, this is a basketball team that is a work in progress," Evans said. "We’ll continue to play games like this and struggle and hopefully continue to win games until we get some experience on these young guys."
One of those young guys was the other bright spot after a slow start.
Forward Wilfried Fameni became just the third Sun Devil freshman in the last 12 years to get a double-double. The freshman from Cameroon added 16 points and 13 rebounds — 10 on the defensive end in his first start.
Junior college transfer Steve Moore also had 16 points for the Sun Devils.
Fameni cited Diogu as the reason he got more touches in the lane but echoed what Evans said about the team’s performance.
"We did not bring enough intensity in the first half," Fameni said. "We were not playing with heart. So when we went back into the locker room we talked amongst each other, we knew we had to come with more fire."
Although not ready to hand over the starting job just yet, Evans was very pleased with the freshman’s effort.
"He has got a lot of tools," Evans said. "He’s a great rebounder and he’s a very intelligent basketball player."
Evans later added, "Wilfried’s a guy that I really feel good about."
Fameni had four points and eight rebounds in the opener and 11 points and four rebounds in 10 minutes against Cal State-Fullerton. He played 32 minutes on Saturday.
"He was just a monster on the boards," Diogu said of Fameni. "He does a good job of listening to what coach Evans says. Whenever his man doubled (on me), he threw his hands up and I was able to just turn around and dish the ball off to him."
UC Riverside (0-3) finished the half on a 18-4 run to take a 37-31 lead at intermission.
But ASU went on a 16-2 run early in the second half to erase a six-point halftime deficit.
Other than the Highlanders’ short rally to get within one, ASU was not threatened in the second half before a crowd of 8,181.
UC Riverside put 2001-02 Big West Conference defensive player of the year Vili Morton on Diogu with limited success.
Morton, who redshirted last year, had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Highlanders (0-3) before fouling out with 3:39 left. But Diogu turned it up after scoring 12 in the first half.
Nate Carter (18 points) hit two free throws to put UC Riverside ahead, 43-35, 2 1 /2 minutes into the second half.
Then, ASU woke up.
The Sun Devils held the Highlanders scoreless for 4:08 to regain the lead. Tron Smith forced a pair of turnovers that led to easy points that gave ASU the lead it never relinquished.
The Sun Devils then scored six points in a row to take a 53-45 advantage with 11:46 remaining. UC Riverside’s Matt Benson hit two straight 3-pointers to cut the lead to 56-55 with 8:50 left, but Arizona State finished the afternoon on a 21-13 run to pull away.
The Sun Devils held UC Riverside to 25-of-55 shooting from the field (46 percent) and outrebounded the Highlanders 35-23.
But ASU also was 24-of-32 from the free throw line — shooting twice as many as the Highlanders (10-of-16).
Kevin Butler added 11 points for UC Riverside.