All-America candidate James Harden quickly returned from a likely lifetime-low of four points at USC with a gutsy 24-point effort at UCLA, including a handful of stone-cold foul shots which capped off an 11-point, eight-minute run to wrap up regulation and send the game into overtime and would later allow ASU to collect the final lead with under a minute remaining in the extra session.
ASU's Los Angeles split paved the path for a crucial visit to Tucson; a win would further elevate the Devils' already high standing and also further deflate Arizona's unimpressive season.
Not expecting anything to come easy, the Devils endured a classic dogfight against the 'Cats, slugging through a dually poor offensive performance en route to a six-point comeback victory, 53-47.
The Sun Devil win was not gained without controversy, as, much to the Wildcat faithful's collective chagrin, a late-game offensive foul on Arizona's Jordan Hill -- followed by a technical foul assessed to a Wildcat assistant coach -- took the ball out of the Wildcats' hands in the game's waning moments. However, in a game that both teams putridly shoot below 30-percent from the field, a loss can't honestly be blamed on one single play.
ASU again rode the inspired play of Harden and his 21 points, while a sturdy double-double by senior Jeff Pendergraph and continued clutch play by junior Derek Glasser enabled the Devils to scratch out a victory in Tucson.
Despite cries of controversy from the Wildcat faithful, the fact that persists is ASU has emerged with a three-game win streak against its in-state rival and the Devils can also take solace in the fact that its road matchups this season throughout the entire state of California as well as at its arch nemesis have all come and gone, and a bulky home slate and favorable road schedule awaits to conclude the second half of conference play.
In addition to the simple advancement in the win-loss column, ASU's defeat of Arizona further pushed the paradigm shift between the two programs, capping the aforementioned three-game streak of wins over Arizona, while ASU remains a much more stable and promising program for success in the immediate future.
In general, the Devils showed the stones it takes to win scrappy – even ugly – games on the road in hostile environments. With five of the next seven games held in Tempe, the outlook remains very bright for the boys in Maroon and Gold.
Harden is nicknamed "Big Game James" for a reason, combining for 45 points at UCLA and Arizona. Little concern need be given to his low-scoring effort at USC; after all Harden has provided in merely a year and a half on campus, he's certainly allowed a mulligan.
Pendergraph displayed near perfection from the field against the Bruins, connecting on nine-of-10 shots. In the two victories, he connected on 13-of-19 field goals while averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 boards.
The player all opposing fans love to hate, Derek Glasser, has grown into a consistent and reliable floor general, especially in crunch time. In wins at UCLA and Arizona, he made 11-of-12 free throws, while a daggering three-pointer broke a 40-40 tie at Arizona and hushed the frantic fan base with less than two minutes remaining.
Collectively, ASU has done a tremendous job taking care of the ball, especially in the two recent victories as the Devils gave away only 17 combined turnovers at UCLA and Arizona, a key factor in late-game comebacks. Also, ASU shot 30-of-36 from the foul line in the two road wins, an excellent 83.3-percent clip.
The APB for Ty Abbott's scoring ability remains in progress. Over the three-game stretch, he made only one shot from the field among his 15 attempts (one of 10 from three-point range) and totaled only seven points.
The impairment appears to be part physical, as his off-hand has plagued him since the Oregon schools series in Tempe, while that in-turn has seemingly affected him mentally. Abbott should receive a thumbs-up for his defensive effort and overall intensity, but the Devils would become very lethal to have him healthy and capable to contribute offensively at the level he did a year ago.
Perhaps living by the three doesn't necessary equate to dying by the three, but a three-game combination of 15-of-69 from long distance is far from what ASU is capable of. Sophomore Rihards Kuksiks, who had hovered above the 50-percent mark from three-point range and ranked among the nation's best sharpshooters made only three-of-16 from downtown against UCLA and Arizona.
The Sun Devil bench simply was not a factor in any of the three games, as Eric Boateng, Jamelle McMillan and Jerren Shipp shot a combined four-of-24 from the field for 10 points during the three contests, while ASU went nine-deep only once, with Taylor Rohde earning brief play in the loss at USC.
Arizona fans for rejoicing a late-game injury suffered by James Harden.
Eight days of "R-and-R" before hosting the Washington State on Jan. 29 and Washington on Jan. 31. The friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena have been a blessing to the Sun Devils this year, with ASU winning all eight home contests thus far by an average of nearly 19 points-per-game and most recently throttled Oregon State and Oregon by nearly 50 points combined.