February 15, 2008

Sun Devils achieve the improbable yet again

This isn't the same version of Arizona State basketball we've grown accustomed to. Of that, we can be sure.

Four days after its most improbable come-from-behind victory in recent memory, ASU one-upped itself with a relentless rally from down seven points with 1:49 left in regulation to beat No. 7 Stanford 72-68 in overtime on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.

You might have thought it impossible had you not seen it yourself. For some reading this, it still won't make sense.

Over the last decade or longer, these sorts of games seemingly happen about once every few years. If that.

But twice in less than a week? Unheard of.

If someone told you this, or anything like this, was going to happen prior to this season, you would have shook your head and laughed.

You would have laughed because you are a Sun Devil fan. You know these things usually play out. You know the drill.

As the saying goes, sometimes you have to laugh because it's all that you can do to keep from crying.

But any tears spilled by Sun Devil fans on Thursday were tears of joy.

The here we go again moment -- one that is known all too well by ASU basketball fans -- sure enough came, just as so it often has.

Up 35-25 early in the second half, the Sun Devils were doing to the Cardinal exactly what they had done in the teams' previous meeting, in Palo Alto last month.

And then, the bottom fell out, just as it did in that game, when Stanford outscored ASU 47-22 in the second half after being down by 10.

This time around, the Cardinal out-scored ASU 26-2 over a nine minute stretch of the second half. At 16:30 of the period, ASU led 35-25.

By 7:29, ASU trailed 37-51.

The game seemed all but over. Some ASU fans actually left.

The Lopez wins, Brook and Robin, put into the lineup simultaneously by coach Trent Johnson, were having their way with the Sun Devils in the low post, scoring at will.

[db]Robin Lopez was being defended one-on-one by Jerren Shipp, a player who gives up about eight inches to him, on the low block. It was basket after basket.

How does ASU come back against the No. 7 team in the nation, down seven with seven minutes to play?

I'm still not sure how it happened. I just know that it did.

The here-we-go-again moment came. Then it was overcome.

Coach Herb Sendek called a timeout, and when play resumed, the Sun Devils began to double team Robin Lopez every time he caught the ball in the low post. It worked.

With Jeff Pendergraph playing excellent position defense on Brook Lopez, the better of the twins offensively, Stanford was forced to get others involved offensively. They couldn't get the job done.

While the Lopez twins combined to shoot 15-of-26 from the floor for a total of 46 points, the rest of the Cardinal squad shot 7-of-28 for just 22 points.

Down seven with 1:49 in regulation, the Sun Devils stormed back on the strength of James Harden and clutch 3-pointers from Rihards Kuksiks and Jerren Shipp.

Pendergraph fouled out with 15 seconds left in regulation, leading to Eric Boateng playing almost the entire overtime period after earning just one minute in the game prior to that point.

Harden had the first eight points in the extra period for ASU, and ultimately, an offensive rebound by Boateng helped to secure the victory -- the second improbably victory in as many games for the Sun Devils.

After beating just two ranked teams between 1995-2006, the Sun Devils have beaten three ranked teams since Sendek took over the program.

In a four-day stretch, the Sun Devils have taken down two RPI Top-20 opponents. They trailed 22-6 to Arizona early, and 51-27 to Stanford late, and managed to win both games.

The last time ASU beat a team ranked as high as No. 7 was in 1998, when the team won at Stanford. The last time it happened in Tempe as 1994, when ASU beat Arizona.

ASU is now 4-2 against RPI Top-20 opponents on the season and it took less than a week for the program to do something that is perhaps more impressive than anything we've seen in the previous 13 years.

That's certainly quite a bit different than what we've grown accustomed to.

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