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ASU First Look: Expect A Dogfight

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Tydides is absolutely correct. Digger is a wimp! But we better not be looking ahead to the Standard Saturday night. Because if we do so we will be dealing with a back to back home loss on Friday which will take away lot of the luster off clowning Digger on Saturday.

Our Ben Ball warriors are going to be in a dog fight this Thursday against a much improved ASU Sun Devils team (14-5, 4-3) which is going to fighting and scratching to put a stop to their 3 game losing streak.

Riding the talent of sensational freshman guard James Harden (who is leading the team scoring 18.8 ppg) the Devils have been enjoying somewhat of a breakout season this year after a tough first season under Coach Herb Sendek (just like Howland's first year at UCLA) in which they finished a record of 8-22 (2-16 in the Pac-10).

However, even last year Bruins were in bruising battles against the Devils.  Last year we beat them at Pauley by a score of 60-50. However, that was a tough win in which we fell behind in first half and had to come out strong in second half with a 7-0 run to take a lead since the early part of the game.

The follow up game in Tempe was another brutal one in which we had to rally from a 10 point deficit to escape with a win.

Well this year the Sun Devils look a little different. I already mentioned Harden above. Too bad Bruins got involved a little late in recruiting this local product from Southland, otherwise he'd be dazzling the crowd at Pauley (guess Howland can't win them all ).

Before losing three straight (at Stanford, v. Washington, v. Washington State) the Devils were enjoying a spectacular start to this hoops season (14-2, 4-0) which featured marquee wins over Xavier, Arizona and Oregon). Not bad for a team which finished last season with a record of 8-22.

They are coming off a tough home stand in which they battled away despite dealing with a groin injury suffered by Hardin:

Hindered by a groin injury, Harden seemed to tire in the second half of Arizona State's 72-61 loss to Washington. He had 13 points in the first 12 minutes, then only four more on 1-for-3 shooting in the second half.

"With that kind of injury," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said, "it only gets worse when you get tired."

Two days later against Washington State, Harden had the ball and a chance to win the game. He drove to the hoop and got neither the basket nor a call from officials, and WSU escaped with a 56-55 win.

"I wanted the ball," said Harden, whose 25-point effort was his 10th 20-point game of the season. "Coach drew up the play. We just didn't come up with the victory. I didn't come up with it."

Harden came up with almost everything else, adding five rebounds, four assists and three steals from his guard position.
Well you can count on those guys to be coming out scratching, fighting, and clawing on Thursday night. In his second year Coach Sendek has established the foundation of a tough program which is based on playing solid fundamental, smart basketball, and grounded on a solid defense (Sounds kind of familiar. Doesn't it?)

They are fourth in the league in scoring defense (59.7 avg/G) and third in the league field goal percentage defense (.397). [See Pac-10 stats].

They are good at disrupting the flow of opponent's offense. They lead the league in steals (averaging 7.05 steals per game). [See Pac-10 stats].

They are also pretty good in taking care of the basketball as they are second in the league in turnover margin and third in the league in assist/TO ration.

And Hardin is not the only solid player in this team. Here is their rotation:
Usual Starters -- F Jeff Pendergraph, G Jerren Shipp, G Ty Abbott, G Jamelle McMillan, G James Harden. Key Subs -- G Derek Glasser; G Antwi Atuahene; G Christian Polk; C Eric Boateng.
And recent roster report:

-- Junior forward Jeff Pendergraph, who was leading the Pac-10 in field-goal accuracy until recently, is struggling. He totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds in two home games against the Washington schools, and has made only 9 of his 25 shots the past three games.

-- Freshman Ty Abbott bounced back from a 1-for-7 shooting performance against Washington to score 13 points in the loss to WSU.

-- Freshman James Harden has scored double-digits in 13 consecutive games, and has scored at least 16 points in 12 of those.
Pendergraph might be struggling but he is a huge key. From T.J. at Pitchfork Nation:
The key to beating the Sun Devils this year is getting Jeff Pendergraph in foul trouble. The Pac-10 has some great coaches but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more time Boateng is in for Pendergraph, the better chance you have at beating the Devils. That being said, I do still like Boateng. Maybe I'm just a softy but I always give big men more of a chance than guards. I think most people do. It's that whole potential thing that gets people like Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown selected first overall in the NBA Draft. With that aside, Boateng was awful on Saturday. He's had some decent games this year and has shown some growth but yesterday was a step backwards. Right after that three second call, he was caught badly out of position on defense and Harden had to come to the rescue again and make a block from behind to keep the player from scoring. Unfortunately, they ended up scoring anyway on the inbounds play.
Aaah Boateng. Something about those transfers Duke. Kidding. Boateng has been struggling. But I am not going to dismiss any athlete who has talent when he is taking on a UCLA basketball team. Everyone will get fired up to play us (especially at Pauley). And I doubt we are going to get anything but Boateng and his team-mates' best effort this Saturday.

Love, Luc and our front court will have to keep their eyes on Pendergraph. But I am interested to see how our backcourt comes out this week. We have talked a lot about how our guards appeared step slow this past week and they were not in their usual attacking mode on defense (until late in the game). They are going to have to come out focused against a patient ASU team which as noted above can play their own brand of smart, patient and mistake free basketball. Here is what Coach Howland had to say about them:
"They're very well coached, very disciplined, the kids are playing very much together,'' UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "They run a Princeton offense, so they have a lot of little special quick hitters out of it, continuity out of it. They do a lot of things.??
So DC, RW, and JS will have to come out with a little more energy (on defense) compared to their effort in last three games.

Anyway you cut it Bruins are going to be in a dog fight against a team that is now desperate for a win after three straight losses. Our players (and our fans) will make a huge mistake if they over look this ASU team in anticipation of Saturday. I am sure Coach Howland will drill down this message in all of his players going into tomorrow night.