Pac-10 Tournament Offers Clean Slate for ASU

Being 2-16 in conference play, is obviously not a record that would instill much hope going into the league's tournament. Nonetheless, those two victories came in the last four games, which gives the Sun Devils a sense of momentum, albeit modest, as they start Pac-10 tourney play on Wednesday.

One reason for hope is that Arizona State finished the regular season with a precious win on the road, edging Cal 42-41. Head Coach Sendek noted that he doesn't recall a game where his team went scoreless for nearly the last six and half minutes of a contest, and still come away to win the game. "Certainly there were a number of numbers that would indicate that we wouldn't have a chance to win," he said. "We didn't make a free throw and we only shot three. We didn't score for decades, hit a game winner on an offensive rebound fortuitous bounce, and ran out of the gym before anyone could change their mind."

"I think our guys are feeling good about themselves in a very humble way," added Sendek. "They're certainly not carried away, but they know they improved and that's a good thing." The Sun Devil skipper has been pleased with guard Jerren Shipp who was the only ASU player to score in double digits (11) in the win, and wasn't too concerned about the roller coaster campaign this true freshman has had. "It's a long season and it's rare when you don't have different guys pick you up at various points of the season," he commented. "Especially young players. Different teams present different match-ups and that's why it's incumbent on different guys to play their roles and step up at various points of the season. Jerren has had a good season for us and is a very hard worker."

Conference tournaments, let alone March Madness itself offer a sense of rebirth for any team, regardless of their level of success in the regular season. Having said that, the Sun Devils' first hurdle on Wednesday night is a steep one. "We have an awesome challenge the first night," explained Sendek. "We're getting Washington at the top of their game. They showed their tremendous talent and ability this past weekend against UCLA in full force. They're immensely talented. I don't know that anybody expected anything else but excellence from Washington."

Current Pac-10 coaches such as Lute Olson and former ones such as Mike Montgomery have been outspoken against the conference tournament. Sendek feels that because it's his first year coaching in the league, that his comments should be tempered. He did however call the number of games played within the conference "significant".

"The fact that we play 18 games, and now also have a conference tournament, and we're the only power conference that still plays a round-robin," he said, "puts us in a very different crucible than the other leagues. Conference games, no matter who they're against are grueling match-ups."

The enormous support of this basketball team from the maroon and gold faithful has been well documented. Sendek doesn't think this is necessarily just the proverbial honeymoon period he's enjoying with the fans, due to his first year on the job. "I think our fans did a great job recognizing the effort that our team gave," he remarked. "As long as our team exhibits the kind of heart and hustle this team did, our fans are gonna put their arms around that. Sure we want to win every game – who doesn't? But when people come to the arena and see young men playing the type of fortitude our guys did consistently regardless of circumstances, I think most fans respect and enjoy that."

Sendek can't point to a turning point in terms of fan support, and claims that it has been a gradual buildup. "I've taken every opportunity to thank and acknowledge our fans," he said. "Let's face it, when you're not winning…to achieve an increase in attendance, an increase in noise, an increase in enthusiasm – it's not easy to do. That has been tremendous and we don't want to rest on our laurels. We'll take what happened this year and use it as a springboard for even better environments moving forward."

Those who will attend games next season will get to see Pac-10 Honorable Mention Jeff Pendergraph, who declared that he has no desire to declare himself eligible to the NBA draft. "It will be a conflict with school. It would be a total waster of a semester," he said. "It's not a wise decision to hire an agent, if I'm not sure that I'm at where I wanna be. I don't wanna be one of those guys stuck in the developmental league." He added that he looks forward to playing again with his friends and perhaps achieve what he hasn't been able to enjoy thus far at ASU – a winning season.

Pendergraph feels that the close win against Cal was good, because all the games in the tournament will be of that nature. "It's the end of the season so everybody is tired," he explained. "We're not gonna win a game by ten (points). It will be grind out all the time and the tougher of the two teams will win." He was also pleased that despite having one of his lowest scoring games on the year, his team still prevailed. "We don't need one person to have a spectacular night to get a win. If we all just play consistently and play smart like we're supposed to do, we'll win."

Going into the Pac-10 tournament the forward feels that there's nothing the conference teams, who played each other twice, don't know already about each other. On that note, he feels that ASU's conference foes won't be looking forward to a match-up with the Devils, since they all barely got away with wins against them and don't like their defense. "If you underestimate a team or you're ready to play, you'll get smacked," he said. "We have to go in there treating it like it's a brand new season. We have noting to prove, nothing to lose…just start over again…we know what we have to do, so let's make some tweaks here and there and let's get a win."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories