Sunday, February 10, 2008

 

I can't believe that just f___ing happened!



Is it dead? Damn skippy. The Sun Devils played true team basketball today to drop the Cats for the second time this season, sweeping UA on the season and winning at McKale for the first time since 1995. James Harden was limited by a flu virus and was held out of practice for most of the week, but he was able to play a majority of the game, doing all of the little things that are usually overshadowed by his scoring touch. Three steals, five rebounds (two on offense), and plenty of hustle on defense made him a factor even if he wasn't the factor. That honor belongs to Jeff Pendergraph, who dropped an ungodly 29 points on the Cats.

Pendergraph's offensive explosion didn't happen all by itself, as the Sun Devil team played in the spirit of Norman Dale's Hickory team in Hoosiers- "five pistons firing as a unit." Soph PG Derek Glasser played like a fifth-year senior, a floor general whizzing passes that even the ASU players couldn't see coming at times. I think a large fraction of Sun Devil fans let out a collective "oh crap here we go again" when Glasser fouled out (on a bullshit charge call oh by the way) with 3:33 remaining. Jamelle McMillan filled in nicely for Glasser however, sinking a driving scoop shot and sustaining the lead without turning the ball over in the waning moments of Sunday's victory. Ty Abbott and Jerren Shipp still don't seem to have the outside shooting touch many of us were expecting this season, but they ran through the offense with precise cuts and sharp passes while refusing to yield on the defensive end, holding Chase Budinger to a whopping FOUR points.

Arizona State's matchup zone was unbelievable, doing exactly what it's designed to do: reduce a team to five individuals. Jordan Hill, a monster on both ends in the first matchup in Tempe, wasn't able to get involved in UA's offensive scheme, but then again neither was anyone not named Jerryd Bayless. And seriously, Jerryd with a "Y"? maybe his pops was a big Jackyl fan in the 1980's. Oh happy day, look who's playing Tucson on May 10, because you can't make stuff like this up. Wow, what a day this has been! Getting back on track, the non-Bayless wildcats totaled a meager 15 points on the day.

Regarding Harden's flu bug, it may have helped the team's outlook on playing in such a challenging environment. During the recently ended five game losing streak and especially against USC, the offense was doing a lot of standing around, as though they were waiting for Harden to make a play. The entire gameplan appeared to be geared to get James the ball on the right wing and let him dribble-drive down the lane. Knowing he wouldn't be up to carrying the load today, the Sendek offense played it's best 40 minute stretch I've seen since his arrival in Tempe, getting the ball to all five players on a consistent basis. There were lob passes, down screening, and back door cuts that, when utilized in combination with one another, appear to be a pick-your-poison predicament for opposing defenses. If this team keeps this level of play up and then starts hitting threes, look the fuck out.

How sweep it is!

Up next for this new basketball sport is #9 Stanford, who the Devils led by ten in the first half on the road before succumbing to the Cardinal and losing by double digits. That game was a microcosm for this season in Sun Devil basketball. The offense was fluid in the first half and ran through Pendergraph in the high post, making the Lopez twins virtual non factors by attacking the basket from every spot on the court. As soon as Jeff got into foul trouble and off the floor the ASU offense was reduced to the James Harden solo act, which got outscored by 20 in the second half. These are the joys of having three true freshmen in the starting lineup, though: they are nothing if not inconsistent. Let's not thrust these Sun Devils into a postseason selection just yet; at some point in the near future they will play far worse than they did today, but hopefully for very short stretches.

A fun fact brought up by Hode over at Devil's Digest: Since the start of the 2007-2008 athletics season, ASU is undefeated against UA, including the following:

Two wins in basketball
Two wins
in Women's basketball
One win in soccer
One (another) win in football

How do I bitchslap thee, let me count the ways. It's a great time to be a Sun Devil.

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