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March 9, 2011

Pac-10 play begins tonight for Sun Devils

Though it's never happened before, Arizona State believes it's not impossible to win a major conference tournament as the last-place seed and earn an improbable bid to the NCAA Tournament. Whether its able to mount any sort of assault on the unprecedented remains to be seen.

The Sun Devils have twice beaten Oregon, their opening round opponent in a game to be played Wednesday at approximately 9:30 p.m. Arizona-time at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and pushed likely second-round opponent UCLA to overtime in Tempe.

Get past those games and who knows what could happen in the semifinal round and beyond, they say.

"I think it's very possible (to win)," senior guard Ty Abbott said. "You've seen it happen. (Missouri Valley Conference No. 3 seed) Indiana State, they went through and beat the No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed, so it's very possible, it happens, we're trying to do the same thing."

Good news for the Sun Devils (12-18, 4-14 in Pac-10) is they're fresh off playing their best basketball of the season with back-to-back blowout wins over Oregon and Oregon State.

"We had a real big weekend," said sophomore forward Trent Lockett, a recent second-team all-Pac-10 selection. "Seniors really played well and kind of put the team on their back and carried us through that last homestretch and they had a great senior night which was good for them. I think their play will obviously continue in the Pac-10 Tournament and we look forward to getting wins."

Bad news for ASU is they'll need to get as many of those wins over the course of the next four days as they have all year to this point, beginning with a Jan. 1 victory over the Ducks.

"I know we have to play well," Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek said. "I've always liked our team and I like our guys. We certainly have no reason to be overconfident but at the same time as competitors you have to play with confidence."

Considering the Sun Devils set a season-high mark for 3-pointers against the Ducks and then broke that mark two days later against the Beavers, they probably couldn't feel much better about themselves. Abbott and classmate Rihards Kuksiks have found a rhythm after looking out of step for much of the last few months.

"I think the three of us (seniors) are collectively playing the way we should have been and as a team we're playing a lot better," Abbottt said. I think that's big for us. We know what to do and how to do it so now it's a matter of just going out and actually doing it."

The Sun Devils have handled Oregon's 2-3 zone effectively and Sendek said at this point in the season there likely won't be any major schematic changes presented from any of the teams. That perhaps bodes well for his squad, which secured a lot of open looks at the basket via its off ball movement in the teams' previous meetings.

"It's going to be a new game and we're going to have to beat them again and by that I mean outplay them and do all that we're capable of at a high level," Sendek said. "We had a hard fought game there, I think we shot the ball really well here. They're a good team and finished ahead of us in the standings so we're going to have to play really well."

They may not be at full strength, either, though that's been the norm this year rather than the exception. Lockett and fellow sophomore Ruslan Pateev were feeling under the weather late last week and lingering into Tournament preparations, while classmate Carrick Felix missed Monday with a stomach illness.

Sendek won't use it as an excuse though. Their predicament is improbable enough that it certainly won't require one, either.


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