Jeff Pendergraph fouled out before the OT began but his contributions early and late in the game were crucial to ASU's success. "It just feels good to win period," he said. "We went on that five game losing streak and almost forgot what it was like. Especially when we lost at home, it feels really good to bring a win back home."
When Arizona State was down by 14 points in the second half, the forward talked about the calmness that existed in the huddle. "Coach made sure that we knew (about Stanford's 26-2 run). (Coach said) If we don't stop them we are going to be blown out again. We made sure we kept our poise and composure like we did against Arizona and it paid off."
James Harden stepped up his game in overtime and scored eight of the team's 12 points in the extra frame. "I think he loves it," said Pendergraph about Harden's heroics. "Clutch…he loves pressure. Whenever the heat is on he is ready to go, he wants the ball in his hands because he is trying to make things happen."
Eric Boateng was an unlikely contributor of this win with two huge rebounds in overtime, and one free throw to secure the win. "Eric came in and did a great job and got some big-time rebounds," Pendergraph commented. "Everybody did a great job today. It is just a mentality. We just want to get the ball. They are pretty big, and that kind of says something if you can get that offensive rebounds on guys whose offensive line average height is like 6-11. We just had the mentality that if they don't want to box us out then we are going to get the ball. We made them pay for not boxing us out."
"I think Boateng has all the confidence in the world. He works so hard and I think he just has to get back into the groove. He hasn't played basketball in like two years so he just has to get back into flow of things. That is what he is capable of and more. Once he gets back into the flow of real games and not practice you are going to see the real Boateng."
The Sun Devil double-teamed Robin Lopez, which was a strategy that netted some success on Thursday night. "We forced him to pass it out and that changed a lot for them," Pendergraph explained, "they had to keep rotating the ball, take a bad shot at the end of the shot clock or end up turning it over. That was definitely a big boost for us."
With 14.6 seconds left in regulation, Pendergraph fouled out when he and his teammates were trying to stop the clock and force the Cardinal to the free throw line. "I was the closest one and I was thinking that it was more important for him to miss a free throw and it paid off," he noted. "He missed a free throw and my guys stepped up and got the win anyway so it's all good."
Pendergraph admitted that the five minute overtime period seemed much longer than it actually was, while he was sitting on the bench. "Man that was long. The ref was telling me to sit down the whole time but man (makes dismissive hand motion); I'm standing up and getting the crowd into it. A lot of guys don't like to play OT's but we love it. We were ready to go. I had no worries."
As exciting as this victory is, the junior knows it only still counts as one win. "This is just another game. We have to get home, get some rest…it's like 12:00 right now," said Pendergraph as the clock approached the midnight hour. "We need to wake up, go to class…tomorrow is another day and we have to start getting ready for Cal. We have to take it one step at a time; we can't start worrying about ‘if we beat them we're going to the tournament.' We have to keep winning, if we win this game and loose the rest we are going to be back here like we always are every year. We're just taking it one step at a time."
Pendergraph feels that the team is more and more figuring out its identity on defense, and that this victory against a much taller and physical Stanford squad shows the heart and determination of the maroon and gold.
James Harden once again led the Devils to an outstanding win. The guard scored ASU's first eight points in overtime and had no problem carrying his team on his back with Pendergraph on the bench. "I try to step up and make big plays for my team," he said. "We lost Jeff to foul trouble so I try to step up and make big plays… my teammates are doing a real good job of putting me in certain situations where I can be productive and score."
During overtime the freshman thoughts are focused on only one objective: "Just finish. We need points on the board," Harden remarked. "I knew when Jeff went out it was going to be hard for us to get offensive rebounds so I had to finish. I had the mindset of going to the hole strong and finishing." He acknowledged that even though ASU is 4-0 in overtime games, it's nothing that the team relishes in, despite the fact that the Sun Devils "do pretty well" in the extra five minutes of a game.
Sendek was all smiles after a roller coaster win that may rank as his most impressive one thus far with ASU. "Basketball is a sport of runs. Tonight that was really they case. We got off to a good start, they went on that run. It seemed like 100 to two to me," he said. "It is remarkable that this team somehow found a way to land on their feet tonight. Especially when Jeff and Rihards (Kuksiks) fouled out. I think that James did a remarkable job putting us on his back."
"But so many guys contributed in so many ways. Derek (Glasser) was clutch at the free throw line; Eric gets a huge offensive rebound and makes a free throw to cap the win. Hard fought win, Stanford is a really good time. They are outstanding on defense. I think we had ten points through ten minutes and nothing was coming easy. We were trying to pull rabbits out of a hat."
ASU's head coach stated that he doesn't have to tell Harden to step up a certain points of the game. "We knew what we had to do," Sendek remarked. "James answered the call very very well…he is one of those guys like we talked about. He is humble. At the same time he has a quiet confidence that allows him to step up in clutch situations like he did today."
While a good game from Harden is par for the course, Rihards Kuksiks had breakout performance with a career high 15 points. "We have been looking for another guy to come along and help us. Tonight was Rihards' best game at Arizona State," Sendek noted. "As he gains experience and continues to work hard I expect that he will continue to help us."
When Harden picked up a questionable third foul, a T-shirt from the student section was lobbed onto the court. The referees requested that Sendek get on the P.A. system and ask the ASU student to refrain from such actions.
"The officials asked me to do it and most certainly I didn't have any problem doing that," Sendek stated. "You don't want anything to ever be thrown on the court because God forbid somebody would get hurt. And the other thing is, the ref told me if it happened again we would get a technical foul. And we certainly couldn't afford any more points scored against us at that juncture right?"
Unlike the last meeting with the Cardinal, the maroon and gold stood toe-to-toe with Stanford, losing the rebound battle just by one carom. "It is not strategic in nature, it is what it is," said Sendek. "We hope to at least come away relatively even and we were able to do that tonight. Our guys really battled. But we had to learn the hard way how good they are in that department up at Stanford."
Much like Kuksiks, Eric Boateng rose to the occasion and even though he didn't play much more than the overtime period, his performance replacing Pendergraph was crucial in this win. "You sit there for such a long time and then all of a sudden you are thrown in to the pressure cooker of overtime. To respond the way he did was just fantastic for us," Sendek commented. "We had a lot of things like that that kind of came together for us in a good way." Sendek added that Boateng has always worked hard in practice this season. "He always gives you the best he has," said Sendek, "and that's something I really admire about him."
This victory doesn't erase the memory of the five-game losing streak the team just broke last Sunday. Then again, it wasn't like this group was playing horribly during that tough stretch and did gain some positives from it. "You go through that five game losing streak and someone who is not paying attention would say ‘they must really be slumping' and the truth was our relative level of play was almost the same during that stretch as it was during the first four game winning streak we had," Sendek said.
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