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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Devils limp into McKale

    Opponent Analysis

    The last time ASU and Arizona met up, a hot Sun Devil squad rode an eight-game winning streak to an overtime victory over
    the Wildcats.

    This time around, the Devils will be limping into Tucson having lost five straight on the heels of what ended up being 10 straight wins.

    But ASU head coach Herb Sendek doesn’t see his team playing much different basketball during the current stretch as opposed to the latter run, an assessment seconded by UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill.

    “”I think we’re playing relatively the same kind of basketball,”” Sendek said.

    That’s what will happen when your schedule stiffens up with a pair of road games against teams currently in the top 10 after playing a nonconference schedule ranked No. 317 chock full of home games.

    Going into the first Arizona game, the Sun Devils talked about how well they played together, with guard Derek Glasser particularly saying that star guard James Harden played within the confines of the team. Now Harden said the team has had a few lapses in that category during its losing streak.

    “”We haven’t been playing together, people are doing separate things, we haven’t really come together as a team, and it’s showing,”” he said. “”We’ve lost five straight, and we’re just looking to get this first win off our shoulders.””

    During that stretch the Devils have lost by double figures at No. 9 Stanford, No. 5 UCLA and Southern California, while dropping a one-point heartbreaker at home against then-No. 6 Washington State and getting upset by 11 points at home against Washington.

    Forward Jeff Pendergraph and guard Ty Abbott have struggled during this stretch, which has led to ASU’s difficulties as a team.

    Pendergraph asserted himself as one of the Pac-10’s best big men during the Devils’ 10-game winning streak, averaging 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, but he has averaged about half that during the losing streak at 7.6 and 4.0.

    Abbott’s scoring average has taken a dip from 11.8 per game during the 10 wins to 7.6 during the past five games, culminating with a five-point, 2-for-10 shooting weekend at UCLA and USC.

    “”One thing, my performance has gone down a little bit,”” Pendergraph said. “”I’m not putting up numbers like I was before. Then some of our other guys like Ty’s not shooting well right now, he’s kind of in a slump. James’ not hitting shots like he was before, so guys are kind of slumping right now, and we’ve just got to pick up the productivity a little bit.””

    Despite a nine-point clunker Jan. 31 against the Bruins , a game Arizona’s stars can sympathize with, Harden has still managed to average 18.6 points per game during the losing streak to find himself fourth in the league in scoring at 18.7 per game entering play this week, 0.2 ppg behind UA guard Jerryd Bayless, also a freshman.

    Harden went off for 22 points in the second half and overtime Jan. 9 against an Arizona defense plagued by foul trouble and playing heavy minutes at the perimeter spots in the absence of the injured Bayless.

    After the game O’Neill was not pleased with the fouls Harden drew when the Wildcats believed he initiated contact, but the coach also came away impressed, calling Harden a future NBA player.

    “”You’re not going to stop Harden,”” O’Neill said. “”He’s a really good player, and they run a lot of offense through him. Everybody lets him go left, including us, I don’t get that, but we’ve got to do a better job of making him go right, better job of getting into his airspace, take away his jump shot and play him like he’s a premier player in this league, which he is.””

    UA guard Jawann McClellan preferred to talk about the Arizona-ASU matchup as opposed to his duel against Harden when the Wildcats play defense, but he understands the challenge ahead of him.

    “”You can’t shut down somebody that’s going to potentially be an NBA player, that’s impossible, but my job is to make it as difficult for him to get points as possible,”” McClellan said. “”He’s a great player. If you can make things hard for a guy, then that’s what I’m going to try to do.””

    While Harden remains the key to any ASU turnaround, Sendek understands his team must improve now that the cupcakes like Coppin State, Delaware State and Florida Gulf Coast have turned into the likes of Stanford, UCLA and Arizona.

    “”We have to be a lot better than we’ve been because we’ve been outplayed and outmatched here during this stretch,”” Sendek said. “”We’re going to have to find a way to keep getting better.””

    And 1

    Last year in McKale Center, Pendergraph literally felt the hatred in the rivalry.

    Warming up for his team’s game at Arizona, one of his teammates asked him, “”Jeff, what’s on your hair?””

    It turned out to be a blob of spit, courtesy of a Wildcat fan.

    “”It sucked,”” Pendergraph said of his worst memory of the rivalry, something that’s never happened to him.

    “”That’s why I’ll never forget that. That was crazy to me.””

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