Devils Topple Trojans For First Pac-10 Win

Perhaps it took a rare Sunday night game to achieve an elusive feat. Arizona State had its usual solid second half display, but this time it finally materialized in a long awaited conference victory. The Sun Devils played to win when they had the lead down the stretch, and delighted the 6,758 in attendance with a 68-58 home win over 22nd ranked USC Trojans.

"I've been extremely pleased with our guys' perseverance," said head Coach Herb Sendek. "We've made tremendous strides and it hasn't always resulted when on the court until tonight. But I've maintained all season, as you know, that we have a group of winners…as happy as I am for our seniors and our players, I think at this particular moment I'm equally elated for our fans. What a great turnout today, especially with the students on a Sunday Night going against (TV hit show) ‘Desperate Housewives.' To have that kind of turnout is remarkable. It really is a great day to be a Sun Devil."

Arizona State (7-19, 1-14) held USC (19-8, 9-5) scoreless for the first four and half plus minutes of the match. Yet, it didn't have much to show for as the score was tied at 2-2 at that point. A back and forth battle that had four ties and seven lead changes saw the Trojans go later on a 11-6 run, thanks to some hot three-point shooting by Lodrick Stewart, in the last 5:09 minutes of the first half, to end the period with a 26-21 edge.

Certainly, that halftime deficit didn't look insurmountable to overcome. However, when the Sun Devils started the second half on a drought of their own, matters surely started to look bleak as the visitors had a 32-23 lead at the 16:56 mark. Ironically, it was from this point forward that ASU put on the clamps defensively (namely Antwi Atuahene who limited USC star Nick Young to just two points in the last twenty minutes), limiting USC to 34.4% field goal shooting in the second half, while going on a uncommon but torrid shooting streak that ultimately yielded a 57.1% mark in the same category.

Jeff Pendergraph spearheaded a 10-0 run, that gave the home team a 33-32 lead with 13:18 left to play. The crowd at Wells Fargo was in a frenzy as they saw their beloved Devils briefly give up to lead, and reclaim it to never be relinquished again. Derek Glasser's 11 points in the second half, and Jerren Shipp's seven points during the same time span, help build ASU's lead to 47-39 with 6:22 left in the game. Unlike their game against UCLA last Thursday, Herb Sendek's squad wasn't going to let a sizeable lead in the second half go to waste. USC cut the margin to three on a couple of occasions, but when they sent ASU repeatedly to the free throw line in hopes of regaining the lead, they were ‘rewarded' with a 13-14 shooting from the charity stripe in the last two minutes, from a team who finally got a taste of sweet Pac-10 victory.

"It feels good," said Pendergraph following the game. "We've been close all year, trying to fix those little things that prevent us from winning. We fixed them today and came up on top…we didn't get in a drought at all, we stopped their run. We stopped them and kept producing and that put us in a position to win."

Atuahene noted that being aggressive, rather than playing not to lose, was key in tonight's victory. "Usually when we have a lead going in the second half, we kinda of play to sit on in," he admitted. "Tonight we played to win…it feels great to win. We didn't win since Christmas. It's always great to get a win, but we can't get ahead of ourselves – we have to get back to do what we were doing well."

Pendergraph led a group of three ASU players scoring in double figures with 14, and also had a game-high 15 rebounds. Glasser was a perfect 3-3 behind the arc and tied Pendergraph for the team-high in points. Shipp chipped in with ten. ASU forced 16 turnovers, committing only nine, which help negate a 41-32 deficit in rebounds. The Sun Devils had a season-high 29 free throw attempts (which they converted 20 of), 25 of them coming in the last twenty minutes. USC's Gabe Pruitt led all scorers with 22 points.

Up next for the maroon and gold is a home meeting, the last one of this Pac-10 season, with archrival Arizona Wildcats. One can argue if this game's hype has been raised a notch due to the win over USC, but the confidence that the Sun Devils now possess is undeniable. The maroon and gold faithful can only hope that this turns into a second Pac-10 victory in a row.

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