Monday, February 11, 2008
Devils Sweep the Wildcats!
The Sun Devils desperately needed a win to break out of a 5-game slump, and they got that and more on Sunday afternoon in Tucson. ASU went into the notoriously unfriendly McKale Center to face the Wildcats and it looked from the onset like it would be a long day and an even longer ride back home to Tempe. Jerryd Bayless, who did not play in the two teams' first matchup, was on fire from the beginning of the game, hitting his first seven shots, including four 3-pointers. Behind Bayless, the Wildcats jumped out to a 22-6 lead. Then Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser decided that it was time for the losing to stop.
Pendergraph went 12-of-16 from the floor for a career high 29 points and was the heart and soul of ASU's momentous comeback. As much credit is due to Pendergraph, he could not have had the game he had without the help of Glasser. The point guard who has had to fight for the starting spot all year long constantly set up Pendergraph for easy looks at the basket and was the floor general that ASU has been looking for during their recent skid. Pass after pass found their targets and left the Sun Devils open in the lane after back door screens and cuts confused Wildcat defenders. The offense looked fluid and the players looked confident the whole time.
This all happened with leading scorer James Harden battling a week long illness. What looked like a huge roadblock for the Devils, considering the integral role Harden played in the first victory, ended up being a blessing in disguise for the team that has been offensively challenged as of late. With Harden's play limited, the rest of the team had to step up and none did this in bigger fashion than Pendergraph. With Harden ailing, Pendergraph reasserted his alpha dog status and showed the mental toughness that the Devils have needed. Trailing by 16, Pendergraph went to work in the paint and took his teammates on his back to climb back into the game. This was by far the best game of Pendergraph's career at ASU. Not just because of his new career high in points but because of the toughness, leadership, and determination he showed and the implications of the victory. Sunday marked the first time that ASU has swept Arizona during the regular season in basketball since the '94-'95 season.
Along with Pendergraph, Derek Glasser also played the best game of his Sun Devil career on Sunday afternoon. While he didn't have the scoring outburst that Pendergraph did, he led the team with 8 assists and hit a number of key shots, including pull-ups in the paint and from three that were very Nash-like. Glasser could have had double digit assists in this game had it not been for a number of turnovers in the beginning of the game that were a result of teammates fumbling a Glasser pass in the lane. His play in this game was simply phenomenal.
ASU also received a quality game from Jerren Shipp, who quietly added 11 points off of smart looks in the paint. In addition, even though Harden was sick, he still had a solid game with five points, five boards, three assists, and three steals. While Harden's sickness forced other Devils to play better, Bayless' huge scoring day actually hurt his team as no other Wildcat was able to get into the game offensively early in the game. By the time ASU caught up in scoring, Arizona's offensive flow was completely disrupted by a combination of Bayless' early scoring, Chase Budinger's awful shooting day, Jordan Hill's first half foul trouble, and ASU's aggressive defense.
Arizona actually looked they took a page out the Sun Devil book from ASU's 5-game losing streak. The Wildcats built a lead then threw it away after one of their best players had to sit because of foul trouble. They depended way too much on their leading scorer and no one else on the offense was able to make an impact. One of their best three point shooters couldn't the wet part of the ocean. Any of this sound familiar? Luckily, ASU was able to get back into the win column with an improbable victory on the road against their usually dominant rival.
The pieces fell together in this game as Pendergraph was able to play 39 minutes without foul trouble and the offense had some flow for the first time in six games. The defense stood up to the challenge as only three other Wildcats were able to score besides Bayless and none of them made more than one field goal.
Next up for the Sun Devils is two home games against Stanford and California and both are definitely winnable games. ASU faces Stanford at Wells Fargo Arena at 8:30pm on Thursday night. Looks like my Valentine is Mr. Herb Sendek. See you there and go Devils!