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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The swing of the pendulum

    Arizona forwards Chase Budinger, far left, and Jordan Hill, far right, fight for a rebound with ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph, left and guard Jerren Shipp in yesterdays 59-54 ASU win in McKale Center. The Wildcats lost back-to-back games against the Sun Devils for the first time since 1995.
    Arizona forwards Chase Budinger, far left, and Jordan Hill, far right, fight for a rebound with ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph, left and guard Jerren Shipp in yesterday’s 59-54 ASU win in McKale Center. The Wildcats lost back-to-back games against the Sun Devils for the first time since 1995.

    Analysis

    Going into this season, the Arizona men’s basketball team beat ASU around like a pinball. It demanded and earned respect from its counterpart up north for years. Arizona won 24 of 25 games, with just a 16-point loss back in 2002 putting a bump in the streak – a rare hiccup in the rivalry – but it was more than evident that college basketball in the Grand Canyon State belonged solely to the Wildcats.

    Then the 2007-08 campaign began and with two wins over Arizona, the Sun Devils have begun to push the pendulum toward Tempe, if only for a season.

    Every one of Arizona’s 26 missed shots, all five of ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph’s backboard-bending dunks and 100 percent of the Sun Devils’ refusal to lose even after a 22-6 deficit yesterday inched the pendulum in ASU’s direction.

    “”We have always been on the wrong side of these sweeps in this series, so to pull off the win is definitely very sweet,”” Pendergraph said after yesterday’s game. “”The losing streak has been tough, but to snap it down here – it speaks to what we are capable of.””

    Not since 1995 had the Sun Devils beaten the Wildcats in back-to-back games, let alone surrender a loss in the raucous McKale Center. UA guard Jerryd Bayless was 6 years old and Lute Olson’s status with the team was not in question last time ASU swept the Wildcats.

    But the 19-year-old Bayless’ youth is not the reason for the sweep. Bayless didn’t play in the teams’ first matchup this season because he was still healing from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, and when he did get his chance to play yesterday, he dropped 39 points – the most since Damon Stoudamire scored 40 at Washington State in 1995.

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill wasn’t to blame either.

    “”It’s nothing that coaching can do,”” Bayless said. “”K.O. can blame it all on himself if he wants, but we all know it’s us. We’re losing the games and he’s doing everything he can to put us in a position to win and we’re not following through.””

    But not only have the Wildcats recently slid to the Sun Devils, they are also making fans and coaches chew their fingernails to the cuticles as far as conference standings go.

    Instead of being tied for third in the Pacific 10 Conference after a win, the Wildcats are currently tied for fifth, alongside none other than ASU. This may not be a total shock with eight conference games left on the menu, but for an Arizona team that has not finished lower than fifth in the conference in the last quarter-century, time is quickly running out.

    “”Every game’s urgent,”” O’Neill said. “”We’ve got to take care of our business, win some games, play every game the same way, try to win.””

    Added forward Zane Johnson: “”We just gotta learn from (yesterday’s loss) and play hard against (California) and Stanford (on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.) We gotta win. If we don’t win, we don’t make the tournament.””

    Though it’s really not that black and white, since Arizona’s No. 1 strength of schedule in the RPI will give it a boost toward getting into the NCAA Tournament, Arizona still has to get wins to ensure a bid.

    And that’s easier said than done with a depleted bench due to injuries.

    “”For us, when we’re shorthanded, it’s difficult for us and we’ve got to make sure we do more,”” O’Neill said. “”Every individual’s got to pick their pace up just a little bit.””

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