Sendek Ready for Challenging Pac-10

There's simply no way to overstate the prosperity the Pac-10 is experiencing these days. Four teams are ranked in the Top 25 and collectively the league has the highest non-conference winning percentage among all Division I teams. Even though the Sun Devils aren't facing two of the conference's heavyweights this week, Coach Herb Sendek is well aware of the difficult task playing Stanford and Cal.

"We know we face a gauntlet," said Sendek, "an 18-game schedule that will be unforgiving that will require us to be at our absolute best night in and night out to have a chance to be competitive."

First up for Arizona State is a home game against 7-2 Stanford, who has had some impressive wins along with some peculiar losses. "They're an outstanding basketball team," commented Sendek. "They just had a win at Fresno State which isn't an easy place to play at. An earlier win against Texas Tech – a team that is doing exceptionally well. They have a very formidable front court with the Lopez Twins; Lawrence Hill can play inside and out and is very versatile. Their backcourt is very steady. Mitch Johnson does a god job running their team an Anthony Goods is shooting the ball well at the two guard. They're a heck of a basketball team for us right now to be playing."

Sendek noted that his team's rebounding, led by Serge Angounou and Jeff Pendergraph, is one area that the maroon and gold have done consistently well. On the other hand, the Sun Devil skipper stated that there's not one team aspect he feels that is in a greater need of improvement than the others, and he realizes that his squad isn't where it needs to be. "Our mindset is very positive, forward-looking and determined to get better in any way we can," he remarked. "I hope we would be better, but we are who we are. Our challenge is to roll up our sleeves and keep working like crazy."

Coming from what is considered the best basketball conference in the Country, the ACC, Sendek gives the Pac-10's very high praise and claims that he isn't surprised at all with the league's success thus far. "You could see this coming a mile away," he said. "All you have to do is monitor the recruiting classes, look at the quality of coaches in the league…I've been saying for a long time that this league is as good as any and I'm glad to see it finally getting that kind of recognition."

Christian Polk is the only freshman along with ex-Sun Devil great Ike Diogu, to score in double digits in his first seven games for ASU. Yet after averaging over 22 ppg during that span, he scored only 9.5 ppg in his last four outings. Polk would love to exit that slump on Thursday against Glendale Deer Valley high school teammate Lawrence Hill, who is Stanford's leading scorer. On the other hand, fellow freshman guard Derek Glasser has quickly emerged as a sharp shooter in the last two outings. He collected 14 points in the first nine games, but scored 23 in the last two.

"I thought Derek Glasser really saved us against North Carolina A&T," Sendek acknowledged. "He was the one guy that was shooting very well. There a lot of factors that go into it – match ups, what the opponent decides that he will take away…but I do think Derek has played with more assertiveness."

There is one significant injury to report and that is to freshman Jerren Shipp. The guard tweaked his knee in practice, and his availability for the Stanford game is unknown at this point. Shipp is one of the best pure shooters, and after a solid start is averaging just over 5 ppg in the last seven contests. "I don't think he has played his best basketball of the year recently," Sendek commented. "But it's a long season and most everyone has an ebb and flow through out the campaign. We obviously count on him a great deal."

One player that is probably the most pivotal for ASU's success is sophomore Jeff Pendergraph. The forward is averaging a double-double in the past five games (13.0 points and 11.6 boards) while making 55 percent of his field goals (22-of-40). He grabbed 19 boards vs. Colgate which is the most by any Sun Devil since 1997. He acknowledges the fact that his team will be an underdog in each Pac-10 contest they play in, but feels confidence in the Devils' ability. "That's what they gave us," said Pendergraph referring to the pre-season Pac-10 Media Poll which picked them to finish ninth, "they said we're not going anywhere in the Pac-10. It would be real good to get a split, especially against good teams like Cal and Stanford. It's good to open at home because it's a long season."

"We progressed pretty well. We took some steps forward, but it hurts when we took some steps back. We need to improve our defense overall. Not just stopping people, but just stringing everything together. We need to talk more on defense, help each other out…we have to play well as a team." He added that ASU seems to be at its best when it's down in the game and mounting a comeback. That scenario, at least for the time, seems to probably occur more often that not. "We're excited for conference play, but we understand that we have a long ways to go," he said. "Pac-10 is the best conference in the country right now and it will take a lot of work. We have a long ways to go to compete and come up on top. We're taking it one game at a time and we will play as hard as we can and give it 100%."

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