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January 10, 2008

Harden guides ASU to overtime win versus UA

The ASU basketball team and its fans waited a long time for this one.

The Sun Devils entered Wednesday night's match up with UA having dropped the previous 12 games to their in-state rival, but that was before the arrival of freshman sensation James Harden.

Harden scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds, including 22 points in the second half on 7-of-11 shooting as he helped lead ASU (13-3 overall; 3-0 in the Pac-10) to a 64-59 overtime win over UA (10-5 overall; 1-2).

Late in regulation and into overtime, Harden was given the ball on almost every Sun Devil possession, with his teammates consistently clearing out of the way so he could work in isolation.

"Ever since he got here I could tell this guy could do big things," Jeff Pendergraph said of Harden. "I could see it in his eyes, he wanted it so bad. He wanted to start this off with a bang. He didn't want his freshman year to start 0-1 against UA. He turned it up a notch big time."

Wells Fargo Arena was filled to capacity, 13,947, for the first time since 2005 and the fans really gave the Sun Devils a home court advantage on a night when they needed it.

"It was my first game here with a packed crowd and it was great," Harden said. "It was like a sixth man on the court. Or seventh man with so many people here. It helped us a lot through the stretch and overtime. We fed off that."

When the buzzer hit 0:00 and ASU had clinched the win, the Sun Devil fans stormed onto the hardwood to celebrate with the team.

"I saw that one coming," said Pendergraph, who finished the game with 14 points and seven rebounds. "They've been wanting it for a long time. I bet there were probably some 40 year alumni rushing down to the court trying to get in there because they're just so glad that we finally got this one."

Neither team had more than a 5-point lead in the final 14:33 of regulation and overtime. Coach Herb Sendek said either team could have the game and that he was glad his Sun Devils came away with the win.

"That game could have gone either way, a shot here, a play there. We were fortunate to win it," he said. "Both teams played with tremendous heart, a lot of guts, it wasn't necessarily artistic, it wasn't always free-flowing, probably both teams missed some shots that they normally make.

"There was a lot of heart out there tonight by both teams. That was a fiercely contested college basketball game."

The win moved ASU to 13-2 on the season and 3-0 in Pac-10 play. ASU hasn't started conference play with three straight wins since the 1987-1988 season.

The Sun Devils played with as much poise and determination as they have all season down the stretch.

Arizona led 55-50 with 1:36 remaining in regulation when Ty Abbott hit a 3-pointer to bring ASU within two. Then, following a UA turnover, Harden tied the game at 55 with 1:03 to go.

Harden got a good look from 3-point range with one second remaining in regulation, but missed it off the back of the rim, extending the game five minutes.

In overtime, Harden and Pendergraph scored all nine of ASU's points and it was Pendergraph's free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining that sealed the victory.

But ASU did not look like themselves early on.

The Sun Devils were admittedly over-excited in the first half and it showed on the court.

They committed more turnovers than they had assists, only shot 33 percent from the field, endured a 7:15 stretch without scoring, and were forced to play much of the half without Abbott who picked up three fouls in as many minutes played.

But somehow, ASU was only trailing the Wildcats, who were playing without the injured Jerryd Bayless, 28-21 at the break. This despite two points and zero rebounds for Pendergraph, and Harden's four points on 1-of-6 shooting.

"We played with emotion instead of passion in the first half," Pendergraph said. "Everything was just all intense and out of control and we kind of got caught up into it a little bit. It took us out of our rhythm and we kind of struggled offensively and defensively."

But Pendergraph said Sendek clamed the team down at halftime and told them to forget the hype and just play basketball.

"[Sendek said] we have to play like the crowd isn't even there, like we're just playing ASU vs. UA because the only people that matter are the guys on the court. We're the only ones that can control the game."

Up next for the Sun Devils is the team's first road Pac-10 game, next Thursday at California (10-3, 1-1).


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