Tourney Talk Not Suppressed

The proverbial ‘One Game at a Time' philosophy is still alive and well in the Sun Devil locker room. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean the team isn't looking ahead to the exciting post-season prospects that may await them after this week's road trip to the Oregon schools.

"I don't think there's a player in college basketball that isn't thinking about the NCAA tournament," said Head Coach Herb Sendek. "That's not unique to us. Everyone understands the implications of upcoming games – how could you not?"

For junior forward Jeff Pendergraph it's "fun" to think about the fact that a sweep this week should guarantee a spot in the big dance, but he admitted that "It adds more pressure to get the job done."

Like any Pac-10 series, the tandem of upcoming contests will be anything but a walk in the park. Yet, Arizona State has been making it a habit the last few weeks of winning the games they need to. Some of that can be attributed to a strong sense of resiliency that has been acquired last season during their 8-22 campaign.

"You get a sense of urgency with the games," Pendergraph stated. "The closer they are to the end of the season, the more important they are. Everybody is trying to get to the tournament. It's crunch time now."

Sendek quipped that because "he likes himself" he doesn't bother to follow any of the speculation of whether his squad is worthy to be part of March Madness or how many Pac-10 teams should be part of the NCAA tournament. "I don't pay attention to who's on the bubble – it would drive me insane," he noted. "At the end I still wouldn't be the authority on it because I'm not on the selection committee."

The Sun Devil skipper added that he believes the Pac-10 teams could win multiple games in the NCAA tournament which is obviously a great testament to the conference's strength. "There's great balance, great excellence in our league right now," he said.

On Thursday ASU will meet Oregon, who is trying to keep slim NCAA tournament hopes alive. "They're so good offensively and shoot the ball so well; Marty Leunen in particular right now is playing great basketball," said Sendek. "They spread the court, they're lethal in transition, they go off the dribble…they're a difficult team to defend."

"Obviously they're especially challenging at Mac Court. It's gonna be another great test for us in the Pac-10. We know we have to play a great game to be competitive with Oregon on Thursday night."

The Sun Devils probably have a sense of déjà vu looking at Oregon State, who they will play on Saturday. The Beavers are 0-16 in Pac-10 play, and ASU was 0-14 last season before winning two of its last four conference games. Consequently, the maroon and gold avoided the dubious distinction of being the first team in Pac-10 history to go winless in conference play, and undoubtedly Oregon State would like to do the same this week.

The manner in which the Beavers battled in their rivalry game against the Ducks on Sunday night, before falling 80-68, has proved Pendergraph and his teammates that Oregon State isn't about to quietly go into the night content with not winning any conference games. "You have to be ready and not be expecting a team that is gonna just lay down," he claimed. "They're gonna play and you're gonna have to earn it. They haven't given up yet."

Last season was naturally a very trying one for ASU and this year's accomplishments are probably that much more rewarding due to the recent past. Yet when asked, Sendek had an interesting perspective on his team's 8-22 record last season.

"In some ways it was certainly challenging," Sendek admitted. "But as I said many times it was a rewarding year for me personally. I learned a great deal. I think I continue to grow as a coach and as a person. I enjoyed coaching the men we had on our team a great deal."

"So even though the record wasn't good, in some way the harvest was still productive. Every year has its ups and downs, its challenges…they come in different forms. You can't go through this journey, this process in any year and not be left with some scars, some wounds, as well as the joyful moments."

Making the NCAA tournament would certainly qualify as that aforementioned joyful moment. What would that accomplishment mean to ASU's second year coach?

"Obviously it would be a wonderful thing for our program," Sendek replied. "We'll have time to reflect if that happens. But for right now, our energies are much better served being consumed with Oregon."

For Pendergraph earning a berth in the NCAA tournament would just be another improbable exploit this season. "We won 18 games, that's almost 20 and last year we had eight wins," he said with amazement. "I think it's pretty cool we got that far, but that's what coach said we're gonna do. Now we're looking and see that it really did happen. If he says anything else we might as well believe it."

"He puts us in position to win," said Pendergraph of Sendek. "He can't win it for us. He gives us the game plan, scouting, things we need to execute but he tells us it's on us to win. Bringing in players that understand his concepts definitely improves your chances of winning. Guys around here know how to win and want to win, so they win."

Despite one of the best seasons in recent history, the junior doesn't believe that we've seen the best Arizona State basketball can be. "I think we can reach another level because we are entering some territory that we've never been in before," said the forward. "When you experience new things it opens your eyes up and you break down barriers. So we can get to a new level because nobody has been at that level before and we expect ourselves to perform well because it is our first time."

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