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December 21, 2010At some point early in the second half Tuesday, Herb Sendek did a little less stomping of his heels on the court, a little less yelling at his players to get back on defense.
His team looked a little bit like the ones that have won 20-plus games in each of the last three seasons for the first time since the early 1960s.
And at the post-game press conference, though he was typically unbuttoned at the top of his dress shirt and un-jacketed, the Arizona State coach's voice seemed a little less hoarse than normal, a smile on his face a little bit uncharacteristically prominent.
Sendek's Sun Devils have been shaky through much of the young season, though they've avoided a glaringly bad loss through a more difficult than normal non-conference schedule.
Tuesday they may have had their best performance yet, earning a 72-55 win over Long Beach State at Wells Fargo Arena to improve to 6-4 on the season.
"Having [Long Beach State] shoot 33 percent (from the field) in addition to having 18 turnovers, I thought that was really the key for us," Sendek said. "It's probably the best constitution we've had on (defense) in the second half so far this season."
Senior guard Ty Abbott had 15 points to lead ASU while freshman post Kyle Cain had 12 points and 16 rebounds as the team used a 12-0 run early in the second half to permanently distance itself from the 49ers (5-8) after a 34-28 halftime advantage.
"The big thing for us was second half right out of the gate a lot of teams like to jump on us and we didn't have that happen tonight," Abbott said. "We got some stops, we started a run of our own. That was key for us to have that second half spurt. It helped out a lot."
Ten days ago, the 49ers scored 91 points in a narrow loss at North Carolina, and Saturday played a quality St. Mary's team close until the end. But ASU's defensive effort in the second half prevented any thoughts of an upset late in the game Tuesday.
"We did a good job of knowing the personnel, who were the shooters, who was going to drive, things like that and that was key for us," Abbott said.
Sendek said his club is slowly coming around, but acknowledged its not nearly where it'll have to be in order to compete at the level he'd like to see come March.
"We're still a work in progress and we have to get so much better than we are but I think over the course of the last two-plus weeks, we've taken some baby steps," Sendek said.
"I think our guys have done a pretty good job in practice the last couple weeks and we've gotten just a little better."
Cain's continued emergence has been a big factor. The 6-foot-7 southpaw has looked increasingly comfortable with the ball in his hands and is frequently as good as anyone on the court at grabbing it when it's coming off the rim and in nobody's hands.
"With the hustle I got in me and the humbleness I have, I'm just hungry and I want to continue to get better," Cain said. "I know I'm undersized playing the post, but that really doesn't really mean that much to me because I just try to go as hard as I can and try and get my hands on every ball.
"My coaches, they push me every day in practice, my seniors push me every day in practice. It's been fun, I'm getting better and I'm enjoying myself. Hopefully we can keep the wins going and have a great season this year."