January 4, 2008

Oregon win a big step for ASU program

Last season, Arizona State needed 15 games and nearly two months to accomplish what it did in one three hour period on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Arena -- win a Pac-10 contest. In doing so, the Sun Devils are 1-0 for the first time since 2003 and for only the fourth time in 20 seasons. With a win over Oregon State -- picked to finish last in the conference -- on Saturday, ASU would improve to 2-0 to start Pac-10 play for the first time since 1986-87.

When informed of that possibility following Thursday's 64-58 win over Oregon, junior Jeff Pendergraph laughed and said, "I wasn't even alive then" and it's true, Pendergraph was born April 29, 2007.

On its face, the Sun Devils won a game against a good, not great Oregon team and that's all -- just one game.

It's not really anything to brag about, certainly. Coach Herb Sendek would be first to point that out. He's prone to compartmentalization probably even more than your average coach is and it has clearly trickled down to his players as evidenced by their typical post-game quotes, including those which came after this game.

"I think [the Oregon win] gives us a lot of confidence, but we know that every Thursday and Saturday, it's a tough game," Derek Glasser said. "It's the number one conference in the country. We've got to come out here, prepare tomorrow for Oregon State, who last year swept us. So we've got to be ready to go."

"It feels pretty good actually," Jeff Pendergraph said. "We don't want to boost it too much, but it feels pretty good."

We don't want to boost it too much

Basically Glasser and Pendergraph are saying what you'd expect. A win over unranked Oregon at home isn't that big of a deal. They aren't going to celebrate like it was a big win.

Here is the thing though. It is a big win, for the following reasons:

First, as mentioned, it gives the program a legitimate chance to get off to a strong 2-0 type start, which is critical. So often in recent years, the Sun Devils have started out slow and been buried in the Pac-10 race -- and more importantly seemingly out of post-season consideration -- before the halfway point. The Sun Devils have five of their first seven Pac-10 games at home this season, which is rare. To be 2-0 with three of the next five at home gives the squad a chance to have a winning record in Pac-10 play heading into a road trip at UCLA on Jan. 31 with just five weeks left in the season from that point. If the team can be somewhere around 13 or 14 wins at that juncture and .500 in league play, it will have the added bonus of really playing for something (an NCAA bid) in February.

Second, even though ASU won, it didn't play a great game. It played very good on defense in the second half and in spurts in the first-half and offensively there were a few moments. But really, it wasn't a great performance. To show an ability to beat a team like Oregon, even when not playing good, is a major step for this program because it would have lost every game like this last season. The Sun Devils lost about a dozen games by six or fewer points last season. To win the close ones even when not playing at their best is a big step.

Game Notes:

  • Glasser had seven points in the final three minute stretch of the game. He converted five free throws (while missing the front end of a 1-and-1 and another back-end of a 1-and-1), had a steal and layup to stretch the lead to 54-49 at a critical juncture, and he had an assist to Pendergraph on a layup with one second on the shot clock to make the game 6-49 on what was really the dagger to the Ducks. Glasser also had seven assists and just one turnover.

  • James Harden had 20 points on a night where he shot 5-of-13 from the field, but got to the foul line 10 times. On two separate occasions he coerced fouls out of Oregon defenders on 3-point shot attempts with just one second on the shot clock. He converted five of those six free throws and 8-of-10 overall. He also nailed a critical 3-pointer with one second on the shot clock to allow ASU to re-take the lead 49-47, a key play which was followed by Glasser's role in the 13-2 run that led ASU to victory late.

  • Ty Abbott was off with his jumper in the game, making just 1-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc, but his defense on the perimeter and in transition was stellar. He had three steals in the game and earned praise from Sendek for performing well in other areas of the game despite his inability to find his stroke. Abbott and Harden played the game with laryngitis, and were almost unable to speak on the court or after the game.

  • ASU really tightened up its bench. All five starters played at least 32 minutes.

  • Oregon made just 2-of-17 3-point attempts. Tajuan Porter really struggled, going 3-of-11 from the field at 0-of-7 from long range.

  • In our pre-game story on keys to an ASU victory we mentioned transition defense, extending the defense to limit 3-point shooting while also keeping penetration in check, limiting explosive scoring runs, and playing with poise. ASU performed well in each of these areas and that's why it won. Oregon didn't have any double-digit type runs. It got very few baskets in transition. It shot poorly from the 3-point line and many shots were contested. At the same time, in the second half there were very few points in the paint allowed, in large part due to the excellent defense of Jerren Shipp on Maarty Leunen, who had a big first half but was a non-factor after the break. Additionally, ASU was extremely poised when it needed to be down the stretch. All of those factors contributed to the victory, and Sendek allowed as much following the game.

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