A 16-3 Washington State run to begin the second half, proved to be the turning point in Saturday's win over Arizona State. Sendek also pointed to the 7-0 run that the visitors had in the last 1:38 of the first half, as one that gave the Cougars the needed momentum to explode in the second stanza.
"I thought a big play in the game was right at the end of the half – the 3-second call, while we're dribbling out front, probably 40 feet from the basket and we don't score," said Sendek. "They get one last possession and with 1.8 (seconds) beat us on a second cut on an underneath out of bounds play."
The 3-second call was just one of a handful of questionable calls that went against the maroon and gold. A basket interference tip-in by Aron Baynes, that should have nullified a Washington State three-point basket, and a tie-up call with 8.1 seconds left when the Cougars' Robby Cowgill made contact over the back of ASU's Jerren Shipp.
When asked about his opinion of the 3-second call Sendek simply commented: "I'm probably not allowed to talk about it right now. You guys saw what I saw."
Washington State's Derrick Low had a trio of baskets beyond the arc in that 16-3 run. The Sun Devil skipper admitted that his team's defense lost the Cougar guard on those possessions and that "the three ball was definitely a difference maker in the game."
Conversely, the Sun Devils struggled once again with their long range shooting. "We hadn't shot a high percentage through Pac-10 play," Sendek commented. "I think the early games we won, I think we did so shooting a very low percentage from three (point territory)."
Overall, Sendek feels that "by and large" the outside shots his players are taking are good ones. Nonetheless, the lack of a third scoring option, aside from Jeff Pendergraph and James Harden, is severely hampering the team. "We don't have great scoring balance right now," Sendek noted. "Ideally that's what you want to project."
With Pendergraph being double teamed literally every time he got the ball on the low post, Sendek wasn't worried about the fact that the junior wasn't getting many shots. ". The mark of a great player is that he makes others better. If he can require two defenders, he's doing his job," Sendek explained. "He can't shoot if they put two defenders on him, but that means somebody is open…what Jeff did today is find other ways to add value."
Sendek added that he was very pleased with the way Pendergraph passed out of the double team, committing just one turnover in those scenarios, as well as the forward's four block shots during the game.
James Harden was clearly affected by his groin injury in a loss to Washington. He had a strong start to that contest, scoring 13 points in the first half, but managed just four more points the rest of the way.
The freshman was probably still not at 100% tonight, but his performance was noticeably improved. He played with much more energy, drove to the basket often and in the first nine minutes of the game showed his familiar explosiveness with two fast-break dunks.
Furthermore, his scoring was more balanced as he scored 12 points the first half and 13 in the second. Harden shrugged off the notion that he had more of an equalized game tonight. "When the game is one, I really don't pay attention," he said. "I just play; try to help my teammates come out with a victory. Today was a little better, got out and ran the floor a little bit better."
Despite its struggles on both ends of court, ASU managed to shut out the visitors in the last three minutes of the second half. The aforementioned controversial tie-up call with 8.1 seconds luckily awarded them the ball with a chance to win the game and avoid a three-game skid.
Naturally, the ball was placed in Harden‘s hands in a clear-out play. He drove to the basket in heavy traffic, drew contact but not a foul, and his shot hit the rim.
"We got James who's having a terrific half going hard to the basket, he got two feet in the paint, he was at the rim," said Sendek. "You guys saw what I saw once again. We can put it back on the screen and look at it."
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