Devils Topple Trojans for Pivotal win

A fine line exists between passion and emotion. Today, ASU showed healthy and vital passion. On the other hand, USC let emotions get in the way, and following a technical foul to their coach, suffered a 28-6 run which sealed the game's fate. There was a little bit of everything in ASU's 80-66 win over USC, and following its conclusion ASU's hopes making it to the big dance are very much alive.

Despite the 29 fouls (including one intentional) by USC (18-10, 9-7 Pac-10), Arizona State (18-10, 8-8) Head Coach Herb Sendek stopped short of calling Saturday's contest the most physical his team has been involved in this season. "Most certainly, anyone who thinks the Pac-10 is a finesse league hasn't been watching us carefully," he said. "You have terrific athletes who are competing really hard. I thought the officials did a great job of letting guys play but also keeping things in check."

"That was just a real good basketball game."

The 9,187 at Wells Fargo Arena would certainly not refute that statement as they saw the Trojans' O.J. Mayo score 37 of USC's 66 points (26 of them in the second half) and convert 7-10 shots beyond the arc. ASU's James Harden was up for the much-anticipated duel pouring in 24 (7-8 from the field), and getting much needed help from teammate Jeff Pendergraph who had 21 on the afternoon, 15 of them scored in the last twenty minutes. The Junior also surpassed the 1,000 point mark against USC.

"We saw something special today," Sendek noted. "O.J. Mayo, he was incredible…we're emphasizing him and he's still getting 37…for us, we're always going to be better when James (Harden) and Jeff (Pendergraph) have the kind of day they had today. I thought they really helped pave the way for us."

"He can have 100 (points)," said Harden about his good friend. "As long as we win."

The Sun Devils, undoubtedly aware of the importance of this game, began the game at a scorching pace and following a Harden fast break dunk forced Trojans' Head Coach Tim Floyd to call timeout after just four minutes of play with the hosts ahead 11-4.

However, USC was unfazed by that quick outburst and went on a 12-0 run to claim a 16-11 advantage at the 10:07 mark. ASU, who went for approximately nine minutes without a basket climbed back and thanks to nine consecutive points by Harden were able to tie the game at 25 apiece at the half.

In the second period the wheels started to come off for USC. Leading 32-31 at the 16:44 Tim Floyd received a technical foul after he contested a foul called on Davon Jefferson (who ironically was hit with a technical of his own later on). The aforementioned Sun Devil run took place and ASU had a commanding 59-38 lead with 8:45 remaining.

"I thought our guys really did a good job making each other better, and once again a lot of credit has to go to James (Harden) and Jeff (Pendergraph)," Sendek said of his team's second half effort. "I think when those guys play like they did today, then everybody around them benefits…both of those guys really stayed within the framework of what we do, and as a consequence, really helped make their teammates better as well."

15 scored points by Mayo in the next five plus minutes, brought down the deficit to single digits, 71-62, with just over three minutes left in the game. USC sent ASU to the line in hopes of the Sun Devils missing their charity stripe opportunities. Alas, the maroon and gold converted 9-10 free throws (part of a 34-39 showing) in the last two minutes of the contest to ice the game, which should hopefully be their last one in Tempe this season.

USC committed 18 turnovers in the game, and went just 11 times to the foul line. ASU shot at an impressive 62.5% clip from the field in the second half, and was 6-18 from three-point land.

The consensus among college basketball pundits is that a 9-9 conference record should be enough for an NCAA tournament invitation. A split at the Oregon schools this week will ensure that mark. Only time will tell if that achievement will be a prelude, irregardless of the Sun Devils' Pac-10 tournament showing, for March Madness to consume Tempe once again.

"It's not really up to us to get voted in,' said ASU guard Derek Glasser. "All we can control is how many games we win. So that's what we're here to do. As long as we keep winning, hopefully they can't keep us out."

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