Bears Tip Devils in Overtime

When effort exceeds execution, the results aren't always positive. Like they have done many times this season, the Sun Devils came close to overcoming their shortcomings on both ends of the floor, and clawed back to put themselves in position for victory. Alas, critical mistakes down the stretch put this contest in the loss column, as ASU fell at home to Cal 66-62.

"I thought they really battled," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek of his players. "We just didn't get enough stops or make the necessary plays down the stretch to be able to put this one in the win column."

The beginning of the game didn't bode too well either for Arizona State (6-7, 0-2). The Sun Devils were scoreless for the first 6:36 minutes, and committed ten turnovers during the first half. Luckily for them, California (9-5, 1-1) didn't take advantage as they shot just 35% from the field and had just two less turnovers than the host team. The Golden Bears led 17-10 at the 7:07 mark, but Jerren Shipp's three-point basket capped a 10-2 run and gave ASU its fist lead of the game, 20-19, with 1:51 remaining in the half. The visitors did recover, and in what would be a sign of things to come, Cal's Ayinde Ubaka nails his attempt beyond the arc just before the halftime buzzer sounds, to give his team a 22-21 lead.

The second half began with the Bears making good on their first three long-range attempts, but Antwi Atuahene answers with six points to tie the score at 32-32. Cal's had a slim 49-45 edge at the 5:27 mark, but then saw ASU outscore them 7-0 to reclaim the lead 52-49 with 3:03 remaining in the contest. The Devils went cold nearly the rest of the game, but missed free throws by the Bears kept the game in reach. The visitors had a 55-52 lead at the one minute mark.

Sendek called three timeouts in the last 60 seconds of the contest. "We needed as much time as we could to identify what we needed to do," he explained. "We have a very young team, and this is the first time we're in any of these situations together. We have freshman guards and we need timeouts in these situations to make sure we're all on the same page." The Sun Devil's skipper action were ultimately fruitful, as Christian Polk's desperation three-point shot finds the bottom of the net with 3.9 seconds left, tying the game at 55 apiece and extending the contest an extra five minutes.

Whatever momentum ASU had heading into overtime, evaporated rather quickly. Ubaka, who Sendek described as "One of the best point guards in the country," began the extra period with a tandem of three-point baskets, one of them barely beating the 35-second shot-clock. The Sun Devils once again found themselves in an offensive drought, scoring for the first time with 1:43 left in five-minute period. Later in overtime ASU missed twice on the front end of a one-and-one free throw shot situation, and allowed Cal some breathing room in the waning moments of the game, en route to victory.

Polk and Atuahene paced Arizona State with 14 points each. Jeff Pendergraph who scored ten second half points, and fouled out in overtime, had 11 points. Jerren Shipp was the only other Sun Devil in double figures with ten. ASU was only 62.5% from the charity stripe and allowed the visitors to convert 12-for-28 from the 3-point range. Cal's Ryan Anderson led all players with 18 points.

"I was particularly pleased with the improvement our guys had in the last 25 minutes handling the basketball," Sendek commented. "After a rash of early turnovers, we slowly cut down and played the last 25 minutes with only three turnovers. That's a positive."

In terms of the overall struggles the Sun Devils experienced on Saturday, Polk remarked: "It's just a matter of concentrating and executing. We just have to keep on practicing and get those turnovers out of the way. That's one thing Coach Sendek really stresses – is playing hard for 40 minutes. He always says that if you don't execute, but play hard mistakes will take care of itself. So that's one thing we try to do all the time – is to play hard."

"It's a tough loss," continued Polk. "Cal is a real good team. I thought we had them, but they made the plays in the end like good teams do. This one hurts, but we'll just go to practice and get better. We can't dwell on what happened, just look to the future and get better. That's the only thing we can do right now."

Time will tell whether this loss punched a serious hole in ASU's confidence. Saturday's night game was one of the only truly winnable Pac-10 games for the maroon and gold this season. Their upcoming road trip to the Washington schools is likely to be a much stiffer test then hosting the Bay Area schools the last couple of days. If the team's implementation comes close to their level of resiliency, then the first conference win should come sooner rather than later.

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