The stage was set with 8.1 seconds to go. ASU was down 55-56. The entire population of Wells Fargo Arena was standing, cheering, and hoping. Security guards were positioned at the bottom of the student section awaiting the possible onslaught of Sun Devil fanatics onto the floor. ASU hadn't played their prettiest game, but neither had Washington State. The full timeout ended and ASU delivered the ball to the best player on the court: James Harden.
In the first half Harden had 12 points, 4 of those coming off of monster lefty dunks that sent shockwaves through the stands. But none of that mattered with 0:08.1 left. All he needed was two points, or a foul, to give ASU an upset over the sixth-ranked Washington State Cougars.
Harden drove right, spun left, then went up on his left foot and attempted a floater. There was contact from the left and right. Harden's shot was off target and short. With 1 second left Jeff Pendergraph tried to collect the broken pieces of Harden's shot and put it back on the glass but the ball slipped through his hands. The buzzer rang.
Players on both teams looked to the referees for some sign of structure. The only whistle came signaling the end of the game and the end of an opportunity for ASU. Herb Sendek looked around frantically for justice as ASU players held each other back from the referees. ASU fans booed and threw rally towels onto the court. Loyal alumni stood stunned in their seats like they had just witnessed a horrific crime. Washington State got the clue, rounded up their camp, and headed towards center court to shake hands. ASU followed suit.
It was a bad finish to an exciting game.
It would appear that the referees had missed the most crucial call of the game, during a contest where the calls were questionable to begin with. "James was having a terrific half going hard to the basket," Herb Sendek said after the game. "He got two feet in the paint, he was at the rim. You guys saw what I saw; put it back up on the screen and look at it."
After the game, Harden seemed disappointed in the result, but not the performance. He showed remarkable poise for a freshman leading a PAC-10 basketball team. "Coach gave me the ball, and I drove all the way and I missed the basket," he said. When asked if he thought that he was fouled on the last play he said, "Yeah I did. I don't know who it was, there were a couple of them right there. But I felt some contact."
Despite his failing attempt at the game winner, Harden was the top scorer on the court finishing with 25 points and 5 rebounds. Ty Abbott was next for the Devils; he had 13 points and 4 rebounds.
ASU had trouble mixing up their offense all night, especially when the Cougars made it their goal of the night to shut down Jeff Pendergraph. The junior ended the game with six points and six rebounds. This is a reflection of how he was played the entire night in the paint; with two defenders on him. While Pendergraph was double teamed it left one man open on the floor and ASU was able to capitalize that opportunity occasionally, but not enough.
"They double teamed him every time he caught the ball," Sendek said. "He can't shoot if they are going to put two defenders on him, but that mean somebody's open at least on a rotation, with someone running at him," he added. Pendergraph added to the team in other ways tonight, blocking shots and getting key rebounds.
The loss signifies ASU's third straight and threatens hopes of a miraculous season for the Sun Devils, who were given low expectations for the year.
ASU came out strong and held a double digit lead over the Cougars at the ten minute mark of the first half. Coming out of the gate firing on all 8 cylinders has been a trend for ASU. So has coming out of halftime firing on all four cylinders of a used Geo Metro.
Following a 3-second violation by Eric Boateng and a quick basket by WSU with 1.8 seconds to go in the first half, ASU was still holding onto the lead 29-27 at the half. On the first play of the second half WSU's Derrick Low hit his first of four three pointers in the second half, giving WSU the lead. They never looked back. Low finished with 18 points, all coming from beyond the arc. He was Washington State's leading scorer.
If the Sun Devil's schedule was a small Texas trailer park and their opponents were a series of tornadoes, the worst is yet to come. ASU faces UCLA and USC, next Thursday and Saturday, on the road. After starting 14-2 and tied for first in the PAC 10, ASU is now 14-5 (4-3), and sit second in the division.
"We lost three straight and we're going to LA, and they are going to be ready so we have to be ready too," Harden said.
Close Game Marks Devils' Third Straight Loss
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