January 3, 2009

ASU exploits size advantage in thrashing of Stanford

Stanford, Calif. - Minutes after No. 17 ASU's 90-60 drubbing of Stanford Friday night, senior forward Jeff Pendergraph was beaming.

Amid the bowels of Maples Pavilion, his smile nearly lit up the narrow concrete hallway outside the team locker room.

But it wasn't the career-high 31 points behind his smile - nor his 11 rebounds and three blocks for that matter.

"I only had one foul," Pendergraph said.

Alas, sometimes it's the little things that matter most.

ASU coach Herb Sendek's offense was humming. The defense was on point. The Cardinal - sans the 7-foot Lopez twins, of course - had no answer for Pendergraph and the Sun Devils (54 points in the paint) down low.

"That's 14 feet of monster gone," Pendergraph said, referring to the since NBA-departed tandem.

Even when Pendergraph wasn't in the game, the Cardinal (10-1, 0-1 Pac-10) had a tough time slowing down ASU's bigs.

That's because junior center Eric Boateng played perhaps the best game of his Sun Devil career, with eight points and four rebounds in 11 minutes of play.

Though Sendek shied away from calling it Boateng's finest performance, he labeled it "uniquely beautiful."

In one sequence during the first half, Boateng registered three quick buckets and three quick rebounds before getting replaced by Pendergraph with 7:42 left in the half.

That's when Pendergraph really went off, mostly dunking his way to 21 first-half points to go along with six rebounds.

"If I've got to come out then Eric has got to come in and he's going to step it up a notch," Pendergraph said. "So when I go in, I've got to pick it up. It's a constant pick-up game between me and him and I love it."

ASU (12-1, 1-0) led 43-30 at intermission despite no points from sophomore guard James Harden. Harden was never pressed into his usual role of prolific scorer, and finished with 10 assists to go along with 17 second-half points.

Sophomore Rihards Kuksiks also had a conspicuous line, as he didn't attempt a 3-pointer all game.

"You got to be able to win different ways," Sendek said. "You're not going to be able to win the same way every night out."

Sendek's offense had little trouble dissecting the Stanford defense and found easy buckets in the lane throughout. ASU shot 59 percent for the game and hoisted just 13 3-point attempts as a team.

Stanford, meanwhile, never mounted a serious run and shot just 37.5 percent from the floor - including 2-of-18 from behind the arc.

The Cardinal did pick up some momentum in the early going of the second half, paring the lead down to 49-39 nearly three minutes in. But then the ASU defense picked up the slack, allowing the Sun Devils to go on a game-changing 17-6 run over the next six minutes.

With 11:12 left in the game, ASU led 66-45 and never lost a grip on the contest.

Though the Cardinal certainly had some momentum after the break, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said his team's slow start spelled doom early.

"I thought the biggest disappointment was how we started the game off," Dawkins said. "It felt like we were always fighting up hill."

Stanford forward Lawrence Hill, who scored a team-high 14 points, said the Sun Devils exploited his team's weakness in the low post.

"They were the aggressors out there," Hill said of the Sun Devils.

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