February 4, 2005
Ike Diogu was chewing nails before Thursday's game against Stanford.
By halftime, the ASU forward was spitting a full load of them at any Cardinal that stood in his path.
Irked by media criticism of his less-than-superhuman effort against Washington Sunday — and riled by constant vocal challenges from the coaching staff this week — Diogu scored a career-high 39 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as ASU's roller coaster season took another wild upswing with a 74-67 victory over the red-hot Cardinal at Wells Fargo Arena.
“You could tell there was a chip on his shoulder," Sun Devils guard Kevin Kruger said. “He was yelling for the ball every time down the floor."
When Diogu missed his first three attempts it looked like the Cardinal might run away to their seventh straight victory. Midway through the first half ASU had a
whopping six points on the board!
But Stanford coach Trent Johnson made the curious defensive decision to stay with a man-to-man on Diogu — a tactic that one NBA scout in attendance called the worst defensive coaching job he had ever seen.
“Contrary to what everyone seems to think, Arizona State is not a one-man team," Johnson said in his own defense. “What they do offensively doesn't allow you to rotate and double with two posts."
Johnson should get out more often — or at least watch some tape. Six straight opponents had doubled Diogu with two bigs, and his numbers had taken a corresponding dip into the human range.
“I guess you've got to pick your poison," Kruger said of Johnson's reasoning. “but personally I think that's giving us a lot of respect."
And not enough to Diogu, who saw occasional double-teams from guards.
“I didn't have a problem with it," he said, drawing laughter from a media horde. “Not too many teams are gonna go straight up man on me so you have to take advantage."
Diogu did in every way imaginable.
He opened the scoring with a pair of of his trademark, baseline drive-and-dunks. Then the juices started flowing.
“Whatever it took for us to win the game," he said, “I was gonna get it done."
Diogu scored on layups, fallaway jumpers, turnarounds — even a big 3-pointer that pulled ASU within 23-22 late in the first half.
“He was hitting everything," Stanford forward Matt Haryasz said. The normally low-key Diogu was so amped at halftime that he delivered an impassioned speech to his teammates.
“He just told us there was no way were losing this game," point guard Jason Braxton said. “He was just sick of losing to Stanford at home."
With the Cardinal looking to rally for another late win — the formula they followed to a one-point victory last season at Wells Fargo — Diogu scored eight straight points to lock up the win, capped by a fallaway jumper with 1:23 to go that everyone in attendance knew was good before it ever left his hands.
“We'll see what people put in (the papers today) about Ike Diogu," ASU coach Rob Evans said. “One thing you don't want to do is challenge him. You challenge him and he'll come back strong."