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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Victory over ASU alters poor season

    When you talk about rivalries, all numbers are thrown out of the window. In the case of the ASU-Arizona basketball rivalry, however, numbers can be quite important.

    Foremost, the Sun Devils have not won in McKale Center for over a decade, since a double overtime thriller in 1995. Before that win, ASU has to go all the way back to 1983 to find a ‘W’ next to its name at Arizona (16-10, 9-6 Pacific 10 Conference).

    “”I think everybody says that we’ve struggled in McKale, but I look to see where Cal and practically everybody else is (struggling),”” said ASU head coach Rob Evans. “”They have a great homecourt advantage, a great crowd, and they’ve always had good players.””

    ASU (10-14, 4-11) has seen two freshmen emerge this season in forwards Sylvester Seay and Jeff Pendergraph, the latter of the two scoring 10.9 points per game, second only to Arizona forward Marcus Williams among freshmen in the Pac-10.

    Pendergraph’s 15-point, 11-rebound performance led the Sun Devils to a stunning 65-64 double overtime upset victory at California on Saturday. The Sun Devils have won three of their last five games after losing nine of their previous 10, and Evans said he believes his youngsters are a key reason.

    “”We’re more experienced,”” Evans said. “”The young guys, Sylvester Seay and Pendergraph, those guys have gained some valuable experience going through conference play. We’re a better basketball team in a lot of areas.””

    Junior guard Kevin Kruger, the son of Nevada-Las Vegas and coach Lon Kruger, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks, is ASU’s leading scorer and plays 38.9 minutes per game, tops in the conference. Kruger played all 40 minutes in Arizona’s 80-70 win at ASU Jan. 25 and scored a game-high 23 points.

    “”He’s a good leader, he’s a very competitive young man, and I think that carries over,”” said Arizona head coach Lute Olson.

    Kruger also leads the Pac-10 in 3-point field goals made per game, knocking down four against the Wildcats earlier this year.

    “”He gives them a great perimeter threat which leaves a lot more space in there for the big guys. … You need to be there when he catches (the ball),”” Olson said.

    (The Wildcats) have a great homecourt advantage, a great crowd, and they’ve always had great players.

    – Rob Evans,
    ASU head coach

    ASU has had a few tough losses this season, losing back-to-back games by one against Southern California Jan. 5 and UCLA Jan. 7, but the Sun Devils have shown a penchant for getting back into games. One of the key reasons is their Pac-10 leading 3-point percentage, 38.3 percent.

    “”They always fight back, claw back, and try to get back in the game, so it’s not to be taken lightly,”” said junior center Kirk Walters.

    Against California, ASU battled back from 12 down midway through the first half to come away with the one-point win. Kruger, who played 50 minutes in the ball game, scored 16 points and brought ASU within two before junior guard Bryson Krueger made the game-winning 3-pointer after scoring seven points combined in the overtime sessions.

    Krueger, who has been relegated to a reserve role with the emergence of Seay, scored 14 points against the Wildcats in their first meeting.

    “”They’re a streaky team, they have some good shooters, but I think they’re a team we should be able to deal with fine,”” Williams said. “”I think we match up better than they do as far as the talent of our players.””

    In the last meeting, things got slightly out of hand, with Olson and junior point guard Mustafa Shakur picking up technical fouls. After the game, many of the Wildcats complained about ASU’s dirty or extremely physical play.

    Junior forward Serge Angounou was one of the main culprits but has played briefly because of a bone bruise in his left knee, which kept him out of two games earlier in the season. Angounou played 11 minutes against Stanford and 27 against Cal but did not make a field goal against the Golden Bears.

    “”We need to come in and not let them get any type of run or get any confidence,”” Williams said. “”It should be a fun game. Obviously there’s a lot of tension. They like to get physical.””

    Olson said that aside from the obvious fact the game has meaning for the Pac-10 race and the NCAA tournament picture, a win for ASU could put a completely different light on the Sun Devils’ season.

    “”If you just give them a few points, their record would be a lot different,”” Olson said. “”They’re very capable, as Cal found out.””

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