Salim Stoudamire won the battle, but Ike Diogu won the war. Stoudamire's last-second jumper earned Arizona a wild 70-68 win over rival Arizona State on Saturday and earned the Wildcat Pac-10 Player of the Week honors on Monday.
But Diogu, who leads the Pac-10 in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots despite toiling on the seventh-place Sun Devils, edged Stoudamire for the Pac-10’s Player of the Year award.
Diogu becomes the second Sun Devil in the last five years (Eddie House in 2000) to win the award, and he did it with a strong finish. Even as ASU slid in the standings during the second half of the conference season, Diogu dialed up his play — averaging 24.5 points over the last nine games, while logging an average of 38 minutes.
“Every game was a challenge and I tried to accept it,'' the junior forward/center said after ASU began preparations for Thursday's Pac-10 tournament game against Washington at Los Angeles. “I worked hard all season and I feel it paid off. (Winning the award) was one of my goals, but my teammates always put me in great position to be successful and they get a lot of the credit.
“The way Salim was playing and the way he ended our game last Saturday, I knew it was going to be a tough race. If someone else would have gotten it, I would have dealt with it because I knew I played my best and that was all I could do.''
For the season, Diogu averaged 22.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.25 blocks — the first player in Pac-10 history (blocks became an official statistic in 1997-98) to lead the league in all three categories. He also shot and made more free throws than any player and now ranks second in conference history in free throws attempted (834) and made (655).
ASU coach Rob Evans was proud and happy for his star player and talked about how Diogu won it the right way — as a teammate. “There were nights when the defense just denied him the ball and Ike only took eight or nine shots. He was content not to force anything for the good of the team,'' Evans said. “He could have gone out and taken 25 shots, 10 of them bad shots, but he doesn't do that.
“It's really refreshing to have your best player exude that type of mentality. And it's great for me to be around a guy with that much poise and selflessness.''
Stoudamire said he was somewhat disappointed not to win the honor, but, “I knew I wasn't going to get it because of my rep.” Stoudamire finished the season averaging 18.2 points, shooting an incredible 53 percent from 3-point range.
“Ike had an outstanding year. I thought I should've (shared the award) with Diogu,'' Stoudamire said. “But my goals are bigger than that. I want to get a national championship.''
Arizona coach Lute Olson had been loudly trumpeting Stoudamire's candidacy for the award over the last few weeks, saying a player from the conference champion should win the honor. But since coaches can't vote for their own players, Olson listed Diogu first on his ballot.
“I guess it's player of the year, not most valuable player,'' Olson said. “It certainly is not a case of where you feel like Ike was not one of the people who deserved the award. He had a great year. Despite what has to be very frustrating to him (constant double- and triple-team defenses from opponents) I've never seen him look disgusted or get down. He's always handled things in a first-class manner.''
Evans said Diogu's honor is a small consolation if he can't lead his team to the NCAA tournament — something that will only happen if ASU (18-12) runs the table in Los Angeles and earns the conference's automatic bid.
“I think if you ask him, he would give up that award for us getting into the NCAA tournament,” he said.
The Pac-10 doesn't release the final voting and doesn't rank the players beyond the award winner. The 10 players selected as All-Pac-10 included Diogu, two players each from Arizona (Stoudamire and Channing Frye), Stanford (Dan Grunfeld and Chris Hernandez) and Washington (Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons), with one player each from Oregon State (David Lucas), UCLA (Dijon Thompson) and Washington State (Thomas Kelati).
UCLA's Jordan Farmar was named freshman of the year and Washington's Lorenzo Romar was tabbed as the top coach.