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February 17, 2008

ASU falls flat against Cal

Following the emotional high of beating the seventh ranked team in the country two days prior, the ASU men's basketball team could not pick up where it left off against the California Golden Bears falling 76-73 at Wells Fargo Arena.

ASU head coach Herb Sendek was displeased with a number of things after the game including his team's lack of energy, poor shot selection and the even the play of his second leading scorer.

"We did not have the energy level that is necessary to win in the Pac-10 today," he said. "Our energy level wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be."

It was another flat performance from the Sun Devils (16-8, 6-6 Pac-10) during a ten minute stretch in the second half against the Golden Bears (15-9, 6-7 Pac-10) that practically mirrored their previous game against No. 7 ranked Stanford Cardinal.

California's 22-3 run during that stretch was a result of the Sun Devils not being able to convert open looks from beyond the three-point line. With their best post player planted on the bench in foul trouble, ASU attempted 40 shots from long range and matched a school record by converting 16 of them.

The Sun Devils became stagnant offensively when junior forward Jeff Pendergraph picked up his fourth foul with under 17 minutes left in the game.

Pendergraph was not a factor in the game. He fouled out with seven minutes left in the game, and finished with three points and six rebounds in 16 minutes of action.

"He's a big part of what we do. To lose him that early in the second half - it hurt," said ASU freshman guard Ty Abbott.

Picking up the scoring duties was Abbott, who found his shooting stroke, scoring a career-high 30 points, on eight-of-thirteen from three-point range.

Abbott was ASU's only consistent offensive option throughout the game.

In the first half, only Abbott had converted more than one field goal. His 16 points led all scorers.

But with Pendergraph out of the game for most of the second half, the Golden Bears used a matchup zone defense to force the Sun Devils into countless long range attempts.

"I think we took some ill-advised shots," said Sendek. "We took some challenged [3-point shots] and we took some out of rhythm [3-point shots]."

The zone also gave ASU freshman James Harden trouble, as he was constantly harassed whenever he attempted to penetrate in the lane.

California's Patrick Christopher had a nice game defensively, as he was responsible for making Harden into more of a distributor's role.

Harden finished the game with 11 points and eight assists because of Cal's swarming on-ball pressure, in which defenders constantly tried to get in front of him to draw charging fouls.

"When James put the ball on the floor today and tried to drive to the paint, sometimes there were seven guys on him," said Sendek.

Besides helping shut down one of the top late game performers in the entire conference, Christopher was able to help out on both ends, scoring 20 points on eight-of-fifteen shooting.

Teammate Ryan Anderson, had another big game against the Sun Devils, grabbing 11 rebounds to go along with his 28 points.

The Golden Bears made shot after shot in the closing possessions from the charity stripe - icing the game with ten made free throws in the closing minute.

The free throws proved to the difference.

ASU trailed by 13 points before Abbott hit a 3-pointer to make it a 65-55 game with 1:11 remaining.

After Harden made his only three-pointer of the game with :25 seconds left, sophomore point guard Derek Glasser stole the ensuing inbounds pass intended for Anderson and threw it into the corner to freshman forward Rihards Kuksiks, who knocked down the open three-pointer.

That three-point basket, Kuksiks' second in the final minute of the game, put the score at 71-67 in favor of Cal, the closest the game had been since the 16:01 mark.

Cal converted four of their next five free throws, which allowed them to keep it a two possession game. A 3-pointer by Derek Glasser near the buzzer only served to make the final score closer than the game ever was through the majority of the second half.

The Golden Bears converted 28-of-33 free throws compared to just seven-of-fourteen from the Sun Devils.

"It's frustrating to not be able to get stops when we needed (them)," Abbott said.

ASU will have to get over the loss quickly, as they travel to the Pacific Northwest next week to face the Washington school's that both have victories at Wells Fargo this season.

Not only will the Sun Devils be out for revenge, but their NCAA tournament hopes will receive a major boost with a win over the No. 20 ranked Washington State Cougars, who they face next Thursday.


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