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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Going for the trifecta

    Analysis

    Set aside the historical aspect of the UA-ASU basketball rivalry.

    Remember when the Sun Devils bathed in that euphoric taste of one measly victory in the Duel in the Desert?

    That’s so last year.

    Almost 14 months since the Sun Devils knocked down Arizona’s immortality in the rivalry, ASU looks to pile on bragging rights of its own in today’s first round of the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament at noon in the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

    By winning, ASU could:

    • Add to its season sweep over the Wildcats, successfully going 3-for-3.
    • Extend the series winning streak to five games over UA.
    • Knock the Wildcats off the NCAA Tournament bubble, ending Arizona’s streak of 24 consecutive appearances – the nation’s longest active NCAA Tournament appearance streak.

    With a 22-8 overall record, ASU looks comfortably poised to earn an at-large Tournament bid regardless of today’s outcome with the Wildcats.

    With less pressure than the Wildcats face, it would be easy for ASU to dismiss the magnitude of today’s game.

    But then again, this is the same ASU program that lost 24 of 25 games heading into the 2007-08 season.

    “”To me, it’s a rivalry again,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said after Arizona lost for the fourth straight time against the Sun Devils on Feb. 22 in Tempe.

    No doubt, it’s a rivalry that the Sun Devils have taken control of this season.

    When asked about the psychological effect of attempting to beat the same team three times in a season, Pennell said: “”You beat them twice. You ought to feel like you can beat them a third time. I think the fact that both of our games have been close, you would think, ‘Well gosh, at least U of A has a chance.’

    “”But I’ve got to believe that the team that’s won has to have a psychological edge,”” he added. “”We know we haven’t beaten them either time.””

    Not only have the last four games been intense matchups, but they’ve also come down to the last possession.

    “”Each of them could’ve tilted either way,”” said ASU head coach Herb Sendek. “”We were fortunate to have them slant our direction. We’ve had terrific college basketball games that were just about as even as they can be. One possession has separated us.””

    Here’s what what could separate today’s game from the past four meetings between the desert schools:

    Wildcats’ NCAA urgency

    Tuesday night, Cleveland State earned an automatic NCAA Tournament appearance by upsetting No. 16 Butler, a team that will now take away an at-large bid from a bubble team. According to ESPN.com’s Bracketology, the Wildcats are the last bubble team in the tournament heading into Wednesday.

    A loss to ASU would certainly damage, if not kill Arizona’s chances at the program’s 25th consecutive Tournament appearance.

    A win would give Arizona 20 wins, a winning Pac-10 record and likely secure its NCAA berth.

    Hill, Pendergraph rivalry ends

    If one matchup could directly reflect the level of intensity in the past four UA-ASU game, look no further than Jordan Hill battling Jeff Pendergraph in the post.

    Both athletic forwards bring a very similar style and body build, making it the marquee matchup in the paint.

    While Hill, a projected top-10 NBA Draft pick, still has time to decide his future in basketball, Pendergraph will be moving on regardless as he is a senior without further eligibility.

    “”I think Jeff might be a little bit more of a power player than Jordan. Not to say Jordan can’t play that way, but Jeff plays very emotional, and Jordan is more laid back,”” Pennell said. “”They’re both two of the better players, not only in the Pac-10, but in the country.

    “”Just to watch them both develop has been a lot of fun,”” he added. “”They came from just kind of being out there to now being prominent players on their teams.””

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