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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Harden hoists Devils to new heights

    Opponent Analysis

    The Nov. 21 issue of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball preview hit the UA campus hard.

    Not only was the Arizona men’s basketball team left out of the 65-team field of projected NCAA

    Tournament participants, but posted on the cover and distributed regionally was a sight even more horrific to the Wildcat faithful.

    James Harden and Briann January, stars for the ASU basketball teams, graced the front of the magazine with beaming smiles. And now, exactly two months later, they couldn’t be happier – especially the former.

    Harden, a 6-foot-5, 218-foot pound sophomore, has led the No. 17 Sun Devils to a 15-3 (4-2 Pacific 10 Conference) record heading into tonight’s contest against Arizona at 7:30, fresh off of an overtime win against then-No. 9 UCLA. For the first time since Harden was in diapers – maybe the first time ever -ÿASU is finally receiving respect on a national level.

    “”The thing that really put them over the hump was when they got James Harden,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”Outstanding player. And then (ASU head coach Herb Sendek) found some guys to go around him that just mesh perfectly.””

    Harden averages a conference-high 22.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Sun Devils. Jeff Pendergraph and Rihards Kuksiks each pitch in double-digit points to help Harden, but it’s Harden who’s the most difficult to contain, Pennell said.

    “”What you want to do is, anytime he gets the ball, just all five guys be aware of him and make every shot he takes difficult,”” Pennell said. “”That’s about the only thing you can do.””

    But don’t get Pennell wrong. Harden is stoppable. He went 0-for-8 from the field against USC last weekend.

    “”(USC) did a terrific job and, yes, we could have done better,”” Sendek said. “”I think both of those things are true.””

    Harden’s game was up and down at times last year, too. He netted 26 points in ASU’s home win against Arizona with then-UA guard Jerryd Bayless sitting out. Then he was held to just 5 points in McKale Center when Bayless scored 39.

    Even so, Harden averaged 17.8 points as a freshman, marking the eighth-best mark by a freshman in Pac-10 history.

    “”He’s turned into a tremendous player,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”He attacks the basket like no other. He’s very aggressive.

    “”He’s got great fundamentals – catching the ball, working on his pivots and jabs – and he’s able to go up and shoot the ball, or take the ball strong to the rim,”” Budinger added. “”He’s been very successful with that.””

    In a zone

    Through 18 games, ASU ranks second in the Pac-10 in points allowed, averaging 58.4. Pennell attributed the Devils’ success to Sendek’s zone defense.

    “”It’s kind of a bend, but don’t break. It’s not overly aggressive,”” Pennell said of ASU’s defensive scheme. “”Herb Sendek was not a zone coach until he came to Arizona State, and he did it kind of out of necessity. He found something he’s liked and it’s worked.””

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