The Sun Devils are coming off a weekend road split in Los Angeles – the result that many expected. However, the split was a little surprising considering the Devils lost the game that many expected them to win and in turn won the game many expected them to lose.
The road trip started well as the Devils came out firing against USC at the Galen Center but a 2nd half meltdown led to a 61-49 defeat. James Harden had a forgettable game scoring just four points and not hitting a field goal. Demar Derozan and Dwight Lewis killed the ASU zone combining for 38 points for the Trojans.
After the tough loss, the game against UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, a place the Devils hadn't won since 2003, looked even more daunting. After trading buckets for the first 30 minutes, the Bruins heated up and took a 54-43 lead with just over eight minutes to play. The weekend that many ASU fans had looked at as an opportunity to make a national splash was looking bleak.
Fortunately, Herb Sendek and the players didn't get that memo. With stifling defense, James Harden, and a few lucky breaks – the Devils held the Bruins scoreless for the final eight minutes of regulation and forced overtime. In the extra period, the Sun Devils kept up the strong defense and relied again on Harden to lead them and lead them he did. The Sun Devils pulled off a stunning 61-58 win with Harden going for 24 hard earned points.
The Wildcats weren't so lucky. In the opening game against the Bruins, it was never a contest as UCLA ran away with an 83-60 thumping. The weekend capper was a little tougher to swallow as Jamelle Horne channeled his UAB performance with another suspect decision to foul his opponent with a tie game in its waning seconds. The Wildcats lost their third game by a single point as the Trojans won 65-64.
Head Coach – Russ Pennell
PG – Nic Wise – (13.0 PPG, 4.9 APG) SG – Zane Johnson – (4.4 PPG, 44% 3PT) SF – Chase Budinger – (17.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG) PF – Jamelle Horne – (8.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG) C – Jordan Hill – (17.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG) Impact Reserves
Backcourt The Wildcats will trot out Nic Wise at the point and Chase Budinger on one of the wings. The other wing will be manned by Zane Johnson and Kyle Fogg. Johnson has been getting the starts recently and has been a solid contributor. Wise is a very seasoned leader and has bumped up his offensive game to go along with his feisty defense. Budinger is a game-changing talent and while he has been streaky this season, he can still go off at any moment. If Wise can take some pressure off of Budinger and Jordan Hill and Budinger himself can find his stroke early, UofA should prosper offensively.
ASU can ill afford to repeat their performance from LA in which the Sun Devils made just six shots from beyond the arc in the two games combined. Derek Glasser will man the point again with Ty Abbott and James Harden on the wings.
Glasser has been a little more aggressive on offense and has made teams pay for giving him some space. Abbott is still nursing an injured thumb, but that's no excuse to go scoreless in two consecutive games.
Harden rebounded nicely from his disastrous performance at USC to will the team to victory over UCLA. Harden is still a lethal force but teams are beginning to have success guarding him. If Abbott can turn around his game and Glasser continues to keep opponents honest, Harden and the Sun Devils should have their way on offense.
Edge – ASU
Arguably the most improved player in the nation, Jordan Hill has been a man among boys all season long in the paint. Averaging a double-double and having his way with everyone he meets, Hill is one of the best post players in college basketball. Alongside Hill will be Jamelle Horne. Known for two unfortunate plays, Horne has actually been a pretty solid post presence for UofA and is extremely athletic. If Hill can instigate contact and get foul calls on Pendergraph, the Cats will have the upper hand in the low post all night.
For all the attention Hill and USC's Taj Gibson have been getting, Pendergraph is quietly having his best season in the Maroon and Gold. Putting up almost 14 points a game and shooting 69% from the floor. Rihards Kuksiks will be next to Pendergraph down low and the Baltic Bomber has been unconscious all season from three-point-land, nailing 53% of his long-range shots. He's been a consistent scoring threat and is slowly but surely expanding his all-around game. If Pendergraph stays out of foul trouble and Kuksiks stays hot, it's going to be a good night for the Devils.
Edge – Arizona
It's safe to say that neither of these teams are particularly deep. For the Cats, Kyle Fogg and Garland Judkins can fill in at any of the backcourt positions while Alex Jacobson and Fendi Onobun spell Hill and Horne. Fogg has been a starter most of the season and has shown maturity and savvy while in the game. Judkins and Jacobson are clearly talented players and can only improve with more minutes.
For ASU, the experience isn't a problem; it's just a matter of consistent productivity. Jamelle McMillan has been real solid for the most part and continues to show more confidence every game. After that, it's a coin toss. Jerren Shipp had a rough weekend in LA firing up four air balls in a row at one point while Boateng made Pendergraph's absence a hazard. If Boateng and Shipp and get back on track and log quality minutes, everything will be glorious but if they can't help the team when they are in the game, it will be troublesome.
Edge – Even
Final Score – ASU 69 Arizona 65