USC Loss Puts Tournament Chances in Limbo

There was frustration. There was controversy. But after ASU's 59-55 loss to USC in the Pac-10 tournament is there still hope? It will be a long 72 hours of waiting in Tempe until the NCAA tournament selection show airs, and in the meantime the maroon and gold can only sit back and try to handicap their chances of being invited to the Big Dance.

Arizona State (19-12) didn't score a field goal in the last 9:31 minutes of this contest, and was outscored 17-4 by USC (21-10) during that stretch. A questionable foul call by the officials prevented the Sun Devils from ending that drought.

With 16.9 seconds left in the game, following a James Harden missed lay-up, Jeff Pendergraph scored on the put back that should have tied the score at 57 apiece. The junior was called for an over the top foul which naturally nullified the basket and ultimately killed any chance ASU had at tying or winning this crucial game.

"This hurts…I thought it was clean," said Pendergraph on that play. "It's not like I pushed him (USC's Davon Jefferson) out of the way, jumped on him or kneed him in the back. Everybody jumped and I just thought I jumped higher. Usually whoever is the more athletic person gets favored for making a tough play like that."

The Sun Devils opened the game with two three-point baskets by Rihards Kuksiks and led 17-9 at the 12:12 mark of the first half. The Trojans answered with a 10-0 run to claim back the lead 19-17 less than three minutes later.

ASU was out rebounded 20-10 in the opening stanza and gave up a game total of 17 second chance points (while scoring none on their end) which allowed USC all afternoon to keep at arm's length from the Sun Devils, let alone hold an advantage for long stretches.

"We'd play good defense for 30 seconds and they would throw up something and we weren't too ready to rebound," Pendergraph lamented. "They were getting loose balls on the floor…that helped them a lot. We were making them work on defense, but we have to close it. We have to finish our defensive stops, instead of letting it bounce of the rim and looking at it. That's the big thing."

The Trojans enjoyed a slim 34-32 halftime lead, but the Sun Devils were in command for the first ten or so minutes in this period and had a 49-42 edge before they were plagued by cold shooting from the field.

Harden paced ASU with 16 points, and tied a team-high in assists with four. The Pac-10 steals champion also pick pocketed the opponent seven times toady. Pendergraph (13) and Kuksiks (12) were the other Sun Devils in double figures. ASU forced 19 turnovers, but shot just 35.3% from the field and was 5-23 from beyond the arc. USC won the rebound battle 32-19 and was led in scoring by O.J. Mayo's 23 points.

It was a tough loss in more than one way, but maybe such a heart breaking defeat would looked upon favorably by the NCAA selection committee. It may be hard for the Sun Devil nation to stay calm, cool and collected after this defeat and not be anxious for the selection show in three days. On the other hand, Pendergraph claimed that he and his teammates will take everything in stride.

"We're not sweating anything," said the forward. "It's out of our hands and it's not like we can go to the committee and put a gun to their head and tell them to get us in. We're probably gonna have a little get together at the coach's house on Sunday, watch the show, see what happens and keep it moving from there."

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