Gators End Sun Devils NIT Run

On Tuesday night a rowdy 12,306 fans gathered at Wells Fargo Arena to bid farewell to the Sun Devils in their last home game of the season. Unfortunately, they also got to witness the end of ASU's 2007-08 campaign. A stifling defense and scorching outside shooting by Florida ultimately led to a 70-57 loss to the NCAA defending champions.

Looking back, the writing was on the wall early in this contest. An effective pressure defense by Florida (24-11) and a torrid touch beyond the arc saw Arizona State (21-13) spot the Gators 17-3 at the 13:57 mark of the first half.

"I knew when we got out to our 13-point lead that Arizona State was going to come back," said Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan. "We were shooting the ball very well in the game (60.5% from the field) and the difference in the game was our ability to shoot the ball better than them."

14 first half points by James Harden did help the maroon and gold to cut into the lead and cover for Jeff Pendergraph who sat for several minutes on the bench due to his two fouls. The lead was down to 35-29 at halftime and even though ASU trailed for the entire first half there was a glimmer of hope that this game wouldn't be a blow out.

Florida did build its lead up to 40-31 with just two minutes passed in the second stanza, but the Devils answered by outscoring the Gators 19-8 to grab a 50-48 advantage following a three pointer by Jamelle McMillan with 11:02 left in the contest.

Questionable back-to-back foul calls, 14 seconds apart, on James Harden at both ends of the floor turned out to the be the turning point of the game. With Harden riding the pine ASU scored just one field goal the rest of the game (even after Harden's return), as Florida reclaimed the lead and punched their ticket to the NIT semifinals in New York.

"They had thorough fundamentals and had a changing and fluctuating defense," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek. "We had no rhythm tonight."

Harden led ASU with 18 points and six boards. Pendergraph was the only other Sun Devil in double figures with 14. The maroon and gold were out rebounded 29-18 and shot 39.1% from the field in the second half. Nick Calathes paced Florida with 18 points.

The disappointment was apparent on the faces of Sendek and his players. Nonetheless, when asked about the tremendous support they received from the home crowd, as well as the prospects for this ASU squad the rhetoric was nothing but encouraging and positive.

"We'll catch our breath a little bit," said Sendek, "take inventory of the season that just passed, dust ourselves off and get ready for the next season. We are work in progress, we made some tremendous progress and we want to continue and move in the same direction."

"I think the other thing that really deserves attention today is the phenomenal job our crowd did. As selfishly as we may want to win for the players, the coaches…I wanted to win even more tonight for our fans, because I thought they were just incredible. It's with great gratitude that the coaches, the payers and the staff recognize the outpouring they showed tonight. I thought that was really special."

"We accomplished a lot," said Pendergraph on the season that just ended. "We go from suppose to be ninth place in the Pac-10 to finishing fifth and being pretty far in the NIT…we did a lot of things people didn't expect us to do. It's just gonna carry over to the summer and into next season."

The forward was naturally very pleased that the plea for the Sun Devils fans to show up in droves for the Florida game didn't fall on deaf ears, and again was a testament to the great support the team has received from those attending the games at Wells Fargo Arena.

"It's the middle of the week, a lot of people are working…and there's still a mad turnout for a Tuesday game," he said, "and that speaks volumes to how dedicated our fans are. They're not bandwagon fans that will just catch it on T.V."

The future does indeed look bright for this Sun Devil team that is riding a strong wave of popularity. Nonetheless, the promising prospects naturally hinge on Pendergraph and James Harden not bolting to the NBA this summer.

Harden reiterated after the game that he will don the maroon and gold his sophomore year. Pendergraph, who said in the past that chances are he will stay for his senior season in Tempe, was a bit enigmatic in his response on Tuesday night.

"We'll see," Pendergraph stated. "I don't think it will hurt to get to some of the draft camps, get some experience, playing against these guys that are about to go (to the NBA) and test myself. If it works out it works out. I have no problem coming back."

To which Harden was quick to respond: "In other words he'll be back," said the freshman with a smile.

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