Final tune-up before Pac-10 play

After a short holiday hiatus the maroon and gold are busy these days knocking off the slight rust and preparing for their last non-conference game. Even though the beginning of conference play, a road trip to the Bay Area, looms large just six days from now, the focus is still on the home meeting with Central Connecticut State Monday at 7:00 pm.

Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said that the team's routine won't change because of the commencement of the Pac-10 schedule, and thoughts concerning the conference slate won't begin before the end of the contest with the visiting Blue Devils.

"They are a very disciplined team," said Sendek regarding Arizona State's next opponent. "They do a great job of reading the defense and working for the shot they want. Defensively they do a good job with their man-to-man. They have been a very competitive team.

"They're a good team and we have great respect for them. They've had a tremendous decade of winning under coach Dickenman.

Sendek feels that the Sun Devils have gotten better across the board from the beginning of pre-season practices until now. "Right now, we're understanding our defense a little better," noted Sendek. "I think we're also making each other better on offense."

And the maroon and gold's offense has been certainly clicking on all cylinders when their three-point shooting has been on target. This season, ASU has been taking that weapon to a new level.

Following a school record 17 made shots beyond the arc against Idaho State, the Sun Devils currently lead the conference with 9.18 three pointers made per contest, which is on pace to break the school record of 263 three point baskets recorded over the 1992-93 campaign.

ASU averages 23.2 3-point attempts per game thus far in the season, and Sendek commented that his players can fire at will if they do have an open shot.

"By and large, especially for the first third of the season, our shot selection has been excellent," claimed Sendek. "I haven't spent a lot of time talking about shot selection. Guys have played unselfishly and have had a pretty good understanding what constitutes a good shot."

With ASU shooting at a 39.6% clip, it's hard to argue with that assertion. Nonetheless, Sendek acknowledged that the at times his squad may settle too quickly for the three-point shot, but on the other hand doesn't rely on it too heavily.

Conversely, point guard Jamelle McMillan feels that he and his teammates do at times settle for the long range jumper. "It's easy to cast it off and then we rely on James (Harden) to go down in the paint and do the dirty work over there or Jeff (Pendergraph) making post moves.

"We have to get points in the paint from position 1 through 5. We can't rely on our bigs to go down there one on one. The three…luckily, we shoot it pretty well for as many as we take. But it's going to be important for us to be aggressive off the dribble and get to the free throw line."

When the three-point shot is falling more than half the time, as is did against Idaho State, and the shots are distributed somewhat evenly amongst the players contributing to the cause, the notion that successful three-point shooting is contagious is raised.

"I guess it can be," said Sendek. "That's one of those things where it's hard to say with any certainty why the stars line up the way they do."

"I think in our minds…everyone gets excited and wants to get a piece of it," acknowledged McMillan. "Rik (Rihards Kuksiks) went 5 of 6 in that game. The guy can shoot, Ty (Abbott) is going to want to get his, it's a competition. It's an ‘Anything you can do, I can do better' type of deal. It creates energy. A guy is shooting like that, getting a few defensive stops here and there and it just amps it up for everyone else.

"When we're on, we're on and I think guys tend to focus more actually in that type of situation because we're so competitive with each other, which is good. I think that helps our success obviously."

One reason for the barrage of three point shots this season is the fact that compared to this time last year the ASU offense is facing zone defenses with greater rate of frequency.

"We saw last year one (zone defense), maybe two," recalled McMillan. "This year we struggled against IUPUI a little bit with their match-up (zone) and we learned from it. (Against) Idaho State we played really well.

"Whether we'll see it or not in the Pac-10? I don't know. Teams may switch to it, but with so many guys shooting it the way they are I can't see us seeing too much more of it. Regardless of what they (the opponent) are doing the key is that we have to execute. When we have open shots we have to knock them down and when you have guys running at you have to go by them."

Sendek mentioned that Kuksiks is suffering from a flu like virus, but is expected to play Monday night. All in all, the ASU head coach would like to play with a full deck in more than one way.

"Tomorrow demands all of us," said Sendek, "not some of us, not most of us. That's just how it goes.

"You can call it coach speak, but we have to play well tomorrow. Period. End of story. Any other thought is an act of foolishness."

McMillan feels that the team is feeling good about itself after the 90-55 victory over Idaho State, and would like the Sun Devils to maintain that sentiment following the Central Connecticut State game as the squad gets ready for the conference portion of its schedule.

"We feel that this is an important game for us," said McMillan. "We can take care of the non-conference schedule the right way, finish it strong. Everybody knows that Pac-10 can go either way every single night.

"It's important for us to go into that with a win, especially going on the road. So confidence wise, getting into a rhythm tomorrow is gonna be important for us and we'll see how it goes on Friday.

"One more tomorrow and then it's time to really strap it on."


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