Not Just Another Game, but the Next Game

There's no denying the hype around tonight's match up in Tempe between Arizona and Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a better record and are ranked higher in the AP Poll than their archrival, which is a rare occurrence. Approaching this match up with the right frame of mind and composure is vital, and putting this game in its proper context is an important part of the pre-game preparation.

"I don't think we ever just play another game," said Head Coach Herb Sendek. "We always wanna play the next game like it's the most important one on the schedule…when our guys played Oregon and Oregon State last week; they gave the best they had. They didn't hold back anything."

Even in the matter of the proverbial buzz around town, Sendek doesn't think that there has been more excitement in the last few days leading up to this game than earlier in the season. "I think there has been a gradual excitement building around the basketball program and even last year I really sensed that," he remarked.

Does ASU's head coach see this game as a measuring stick for the program which its 11-2 record has been a very pleasant surprise? "Every game measures you in some way, doesn't it? I don't think this one is any different along those lines," Sendek replied. "And then you have a chance to play the next game and it measures whether you've taken a few steps forward or maybe you're on a little of a detour."

The question on many fans' minds leading up to this game, is whether Arizona will be with or without the services of Jerryd Bayless, who has already missed three games with a sprained knee and is a game-time decision against Arizona State.

ASU's head coach said that his team is just going about its preparations without trying to figure out if the Wildcat freshman will play in his homecoming game or not. "I don't know how it changes our preparation," stated Sendek. "We have our 12 guys, who in some kind of capacity will try and simulate what they do."

"He's obviously an important player for them and obviously a talented player," Sendek commented on Bayless. "But they're a good team anyway. That just shows you the strength of their squad and their program that they can have a guy out like that and still be that good."

In preparing for this game, Sendek has been impressed with the balance that Arizona has shown on both ends of the floor. He doesn't concern himself about the style changes that make have taken place under interim Head Coach Kevin O'Neil, but rather with how their team executes on offense and defense. "We're preparing for Wednesday's game," said Sendek. "We're not preparing for the 1982 Arizona team or the 1997 Arizona team. We don't have enough time to do that."

In terms of his own team's play, Sendek feels that his squad is vastly improved on offense and is employing a different system than last year due to its personnel. While they are some steps that will be taken to counter what Arizona will do on both ends of the court, by and large ASU will not deviate from its own system.

"You can't change who you are entirely from one game to the next," Sendek explained. "There's not enough time and you can't be good at everything. Conversely, you try to take into account, as it relates to what you do, what your opponent does and prepare for that."

ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph doesn't guarantee victory, but feels that the rise in talent and heart of the team can help this game be more competitive than in years past. "This is probably one of the better teams that can compete with them," he commented. "It doesn't really seem like it's gonna be a landslide victory, but a really a good game and one of the best games that there has been between ASU and U of A in a long time…we're really excited about this game."

The junior applauded Arizona's tough defense claiming that it was impossible to score on them. On offense, he stated that a defender would be in for rough night trying to fight through a plethora of screens that the Wildcats will present. "They're gonna make you work on defense and on offense," said Pendergraph.

Pendergraph will be matched up against Arizona's Jordan Hill, who has improved quite a bit from last year and has the full attention of the ASU junior. "He poses all kinds of problems, he's a monster for such a young guy," Pendergraph noted. "He's playing really well now. He's one of the best players in the Pac-10, he's better on the glass, and you have to know where he is at all times. He can get those garbage points and is also capable of scoring 20, 30 points every night. He's a go-to player on their team. He's gonna be one of the tough match ups."

Youth is definitely served in large quantities on this Sun Devil team. Thus, it's up to veterans like Pendergraph to show the way and help the newcomers on the team getting ready for this rivalry. Nonetheless, Pendergraph knows that there's only so much you can say and some matters can only be figured out after actually playing in that game. "You can prepare them so much, but they have to take the test," he said.

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