A Mental Letdown

The 76-73 score doesn't tell the whole story of the ASU-Cal contest. The Sun Devils seemed lifeless for large portions of the game - a notion that wasn't dismissed by ASU head coach Herb Sendek and guard Ty Abbott who scored a career high 30 points on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena.

"We quite simply didn't have the requisite energy level that is necessary to win in the Pac-10 today," said Sendek. "Our physical, mental and passion tanks never got filled, and as a result, we were on fumes and never put ourselves in a position where we really had a right to feel like we deserved to win."

Ironically, the maroon and gold had an impressive start and were displaying anything but a lack of vigor. Ty Abbott, who has been in an offensive cold spell for weeks now, had 10 points in the first 12 minutes, making three shots beyond the arc and helping Arizona State take a 26-17 lead with 8:35 left in the half.

Nonetheless, even up to that point it wasn't the trademark suffocating ASU defense at work, and the aforementioned lack of energy plagued the team on both ends of the court. Cal outscored the Sun Devils 13-5 the rest of the period and momentum was clearly on their side. "Shots weren't falling for us and we really didn't get anything to go," Abbott commented. "It showed and they went on a run themselves. We didn't give as much as we could."

"I most certainly don't want to take anything away from Cal," Sendek commented on his team's offensive struggles today. "…for us once again we've had nights before where we had a horrendous time shooting and putting the ball in the basket. I have a hard time stepping beyond our energy level."

ASU attempted 20 three-point shots in the first half, and while they made a respectable 30% of them, the Bears' zone defense achieved their objective – eliminating drives to basket by James Harden, as well as preventing Jeff Pendergraph the ball down low. To make matters worse Pendergraph played just 16 minutes, fouled out and had just three points today.

"They collapsed and made a big emphasis on that," said Harden who tallied 11 points, but just three in the first half. "I tried to do the best job I could getting my teammates involved. They were really clogging the lane. Once I put just one foot in the paint they were standing there ready to take a charge." The guard admitted that in the first half he was apprehensive about going to the basket in fear of picking up his third foul.

"It was a team effort," said Cal Head Coach Ben Braun. "Our team played well, our players had focus. I thought our defense throughout the game was pretty solid."

The Sun Devil skipper contended that his squad didn't necessarily settle for the long range shot, but rather reacted to what the Cal defense presented. "When James (Harden) puts the ball on the floor today and tried to drive the paint, sometimes there were seven guys on his," said a frustrated Sendek. "So then you do what? You pass outside, the guy has an open three and he takes it. You have your fingers and toes crossed hoping he makes it."

"I do think, having said all that, we took some ill-advised shots, we took some challenged 3's, and we took some out of rhythm 3's. So those two things working in concert leads to the kind of numbers that you see on the stat sheet." ASU's 40 shot attempts from three-point land were 11 shy of a school record, but their 16 made three point shots tied an ASU high.

With the score 57-50 and less than four minutes left in the game, Harden missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw, which could have naturally helped his team cut down the deficit with enough minutes left for a possible third come from behind win this week.

"I'm kind of in a slump right now," said the freshman who's just 9-16 from the charity stripe in his last two games, "not having confidence in my free throws. I need to get over that real fast because I'm gonna get to the line a lot…it's just concentration. I just have to keep focused."

ASU won two come from behind games earlier this week: a 59-54 decision at Arizona, a game where they trailed 16 points in the first half. The second one was just two nights ago, a 72-68 overtime home victory against Stanford where the Sun Devils were behind by double digits with less than five minutes left.

It would be convenient to point to those couple of contests as an explanation for the team's psyche today, but Sendek wasn't in a hurry to concur with that theory. "It's impossible for anyone to know for sure," he said. "It certainly doesn't serve us any value in attributing it to that cause. It's our responsibility every time we play to have a full tank. No one said it was that easy – it's quite demanding. It's a tremendous grind."

"It causes sometimes the very worst in you to fall out and sometimes it brings out the very best. If you want to look for an explanation from our stand point, I have a hard time right now stepping over that."

"For us it's really incumbent to figure out a way, as hard as it may be, to bring it. Not withstanding an emotional win on Thursday night, an overtime game…you can have a logical blue print that can lead you to an intelligent conclusion. For us and our guys – we don't have the luxury of going there."

And time will tell if ASU's loss today ultimately hurt its NCAA tournament aspirations.

"We knew we had to win this game to keep our hopes up for playing in March," said Abbott. "We knew we needed this game, and it just didn't work for us…it is part of the learning curve."

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