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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ASU moving forward after first Pac-10 win

    Arizona forward Jordan Hill hangs on the rim after dunking over ASU forward Serge Angounou during the second half of the Wildcats 71-47 win Jan. 24 in McKale Center. Angounou will be playing his last home game as a Sun Devil on Senior Night Sunday.
    Arizona forward Jordan Hill hangs on the rim after dunking over ASU forward Serge Angounou during the second half of the Wildcats’ 71-47 win Jan. 24 in McKale Center. Angounou will be playing his last home game as a Sun Devil on Senior Night Sunday.

    For weeks it looked like this year’s ASU men’s basketball team would go down in history as an answer to a trivia question.

    Who is the only team in Pacific 10 Conference history to go winless in league play since Arizona and ASU joined in 1978-79?

    Instead, the Sun Devils shocked then-No. 22 USC with a 68-58 win Sunday to snap a school-record 15-game losing streak.

    “”It was really important,”” said ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph. “”A lot of people were doubting us, saying we’d be the first team in Pac-10 history without a win. It was good to not be that team and go down in the books not winning anything.””

    Although the win over the Trojans may have been the first test the Sun Devils passed on the scoreboard in weeks, ASU head coach Herb Sendek still said his squad has made “”great progress.””

    The Sun Devils – who lost to NAU, Portland State and Davidson in nonconference play – lost their five games before USC by an average of four points, with three of those games against ranked teams.

    In that stretch, ASU was a 3-pointer – that rimmed out – away from beating No. 9 Washington State Feb. 3 and led No. 4 UCLA by 10 with 11 minutes left Feb. 15.

    “”We kept getting closer and closer,”” Pendergraph said. “”How many more times can we get closer and not win? If we keep pushing each other we’ll get over the hump soon enough. I didn’t know it would be Sunday, but it was coming.””

    With ASU clearly in a rebuilding year under the first-year head coach Sendek, success cannot be measured in wins and losses – for now at least.

    Sendek said his players have been winners this season in ways not quantified by its record.

    “”I’m more aware than anybody that we weren’t winners on the scoreboard, I understand that,”” he said, “”but we were validated with great effort, tremendous improvement, and certainly the kind of habits you would expect from a winner.””

    “”Our record is what it is,”” he added of the Sun Devils’ ugly 7-19 mark, 1-14 in conference play. “”We could have won some games that we lost had we made more shots, had we gotten a bounce of the ball better, had certain other things occurred differently, but what team in the country can’t say that in every season?””

    The Sun Devils clearly haven’t quit while staying in every contest the past few weeks since losing 71-47 to the Wildcats in Tucson Jan. 24.

    “”I think that Herb and his staff have done a great job of keeping their morale up,”” said UA head coach Lute Olson. “”The biggest problem you face if you’re 1-14 is keeping your morale up, and you watch them play and it’s not a morale problem. They’re playing their tails off. They’re playing good solid basketball and they’re trying to keep the game at a tempo that they’ve got a chance to win.””

    Besides its record and having a new coach, this is also a rebuilding year in Tempe, due to the inexperience of key players: The Sun Devils’ top four players in minutes per game, including its top three scorers, are underclassmen.

    “”The real great teams, all the dynasties teams had to start somewhere,”” said Pendergraph, a sophomore who averages 12.4 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds. “”You’ve got to go through growing pains and all that hard stuff first before getting recognition and the fun stuff that comes along with winning big games.””

    Those growing pains can be seen in an offense that ranks last in the conference, averaging 59.7 points per game. ASU stays in games with Sendek’s tricky zone defense that holds squads to 62.7 per contest, fourth in the league.

    For now the Sun Devils have a chance to play spoiler once again against a squad likely slated for the NCAA Tournament, and earn in-state bragging rights in the process.

    “”We’re certainly a basketball team that still is working hard to get better in every way,”” Sendek said. “”Certainly (Sunday) was a good experience for our team, but we know we have another enormous challenge on Sunday.

    “”Let’s face it, we’re going to have to be incredible on Sunday. We got beat by (24) the first time we played them, and it’s going to be an enormous challenge for us.””

    – Mike Ritter contributed to this report.

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