BERKELEY, Calif. -The Arizona State men’s basketball team snuck out of Northern California this morning with a wink and a grin.
After a 2003-04 season of horrible breaks, the Sun Devils are getting more than their share of payback. And the magnanimity of the karmic wheel ultimately may lead to an NCAA tournament berth.
In one of its sloppier efforts of the season, ASU rode the back of Ike Diogu to a 79-70 win over depleted California on Saturday to record its first road sweep of the Bay Arena schools since 1985.
The win improved ASU to 13-2 overall and, more important, 2-1 in the Pac-10 despite having played all three games on the road.
Diogu had 16 of his game high 25 points in the second half to negate some subpar efforts from Jason Braxton and Serge Angounou, both of whom found themselves in coach Rob Evans’ doghouse at various points in the game.
"Mentally, they just weren’t there," Evans said. "They were doing some things that I haven’t seen them do before so I knew they were tired."
Cal (8-6, 1-3) entered the game without point guard Ayinde Ubaka (broken foot), and ASU caught another break when guard Richard Midgley was limited to six, first-half minutes by a sprained shoulder suffered last week versus Washington State.
But the Devils failed to capitalize early, playing one of their worst halves of the season.
The Sun Devils built an eight-point lead on Steve Moore’s 3-pointer with about five minutes left in the first half. Moore had 12 of his 18 points in the half. But ASU got sloppy thereafter, turning the ball over four times and missing its final three field goals of the half to fall behind 33-32 at the break.
The Golden Bears used their length inside — particularly Rod Benson — to frustrate forward Diogu, who had nine points in the half, but turned the ball over twice and picked up a pair of offensive fouls.
Evans tried everything to shake his team’s doldrums, going 11 deep in the half, employing a lineup with Diogu and forward Craig Austin for the first time this season and even going to seldom-used Keith Wooden in the second half.
But it was Diogu who finally rode to the rescue, setting up shop down low and converting a pair of 3-point plays to restore the ASU lead at 42-41 with 14:53 to go in the game.
"I’ve been too close too many times here to lose again," said Diogu, who helped the Devils snap a four-game skid in Berkeley. "Everybody stepped it up in the second half."
With ASU leading 53-50, Kevin Kruger (11 points) hit a 3-pointer and another shot to open a six-point lead, and the Devils held Cal at bay thereafter. Tyrone Jackson also helped the cause with five points and four assists in relief of an ineffective Braxton.
Diogu is now one point shy of tying Byron Scott (1,572 points) for fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list.
"He’s the best in the world," Evans said.