Devils Squeak By in Exhibition Opener

From the jerseys without last names to the new promotional video, it wasn't hard to realize that these are new times for ASU basketball. With this sense of freshness, there's also the inevitable learning curve on the court. Case in point, the inaugural game in coach Herb Sendek's ASU tenure, against the University of Victoria, was closer than expected and resulted in a 58-53 Sun Devil win.

"These kinds of experiences are invaluable for our team," said Sendek following the contest. "I wish we could have a few more before we have our season opener. Following Saturday's scrimmage against Las Vegas, this is exactly what we needed to do, is to play another game."

The first seven minutes saw all Arizona State players (aside from Shane Kuyper who didn't play at all) see some game action. Christian Polk, who got the starting nod with fellow freshman Jerren Shipp (Allen Morill, Antwi Atuahene and Jeff Pendergraph rounding out the starting five), scored the game's first three points and had ten points overall in the first twenty minutes. However, the team's shooting percentage matched its first half point total, 26, which allowed the visitors from Canada to keep matters close.

The Vikes led 7-3 at the 15:49 mark, but thanks to Serge Angounou the maroon and gold claimed the lead 9-7 a minute and half later. Victoria's zone defense challenged the Sun Devils to make jump shots, and had the home team inadvertently milk the shot clock and passing around the perimeter looking for jumpers that ultimately didn't fall. On the other hand, the Devils often employed a press defense on Tuesday night, and held the Vikes scoreless for nearly five minutes in the first half. A fast-break dunk by Polk gave his team an 18-10 margin with 6:35 left in the half, but the visitors stormed back shortly after to claim the lead back 19-18. Shipp and Atuahene made sure that the lead was short lived, and guided their squad to a 26-23 halftime edge and the lead was never surrendered again.

ASU's returning leading scorer forward Jeff Pendergraph was held scoreless in the first half, and Sendek admitted that the "crux of our halftime talk…we had to get the ball inside." Those words didn't fall on deaf ears, and the 2006 All Pac-10 freshman team member was fed the ball early and often down low, en route to his dozen points in the game. Polk's three-point basket gave the Sun Devils their first double-digit lead 44-33 at the 9:17 mark, and Pendergraph's dunk with 1:30 left in the game, awarded the maroon and gold what seemed to be a comfortable 56-46 lead. Yet, hot shooting by the visitors coupled with poor ASU rebounding and a five second violation help cut the lead 56-53 with 25 seconds remaining. Polk's two free throws down the stretch ensured that no upset was going to take place in Tempe tonight.

The Sun Devils were paced by Polk who had 15 points. Pendergraph had 12, and tied Shipp for a team-high seven boards. Shipp also had a team-high five assists. Angounou was the only other ASU player in double-digits with 10. The Sun Devils forced 20 turnovers and had nine steals in Tuesday's game.

Polk found out on Saturday's scrimmage against UNLV that he was going to start, and for the local Deer Valley high school star, that was certainly a treat. "I felt comfortable," he stated. "Coach has a lot of confidence in me. It's a lot of fun playing in front of my friends and family – it helps a lot." The true freshman acknowledged that the team did play better than their aforementioned scrimmage, and overall is getting a tighter grasp of Sendek's system. "I think we're getting better," he claimed. "When we first got here, it was like math, calculus…everybody was kind of lost. We watch a lot of film, a lot of NC State stuff, and everyone sees where they're gonna get their looks."

"Although you want to win every game by as many points as you can," said Sendek, "I think they'll be some tremendous pearls to come from the fact that we played a close game. That will give us the opportunity to talk about some important things tomorrow (Tuesday) in film session. All in all, we need these kinds of experiences."

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