Devils defined by resiliency

ASU's last two victories, both road wins at UCLA and Arizona, are impressive on many levels. The one common thread to these two contests is the fact that the Sun Devils successfully battled adversity down the stretch. Much has been said about the strong chemistry this team possesses and fortunately for the maroon and gold that trait has produced its resiliency.

So far in the 2008-09 campaign, Arizona State won its two overtime games and hasn't lost any contest decided by five points or less. Third-year head coach Herb Sendek feels that his team has showed the knack of staging comebacks for a while now.

"They were resilient last year," Sendek said. "In our first year our group was very resilient. They didn't always meet with the same results, but I think that it has been a trait that these guys have had since I've come here. I don't think this is something that is unique to this year.

"The credit goes to the players. Those guys create that, they bring that. That's not a gift you can easily give to somebody else. It's always a function of guys making plays. No more, no less."

Forward Jeff Pendergraph claimed that grueling practices and conditioning drills have as much to do with the team's resiliency as camaraderie does. "Hard times like that bring you together instead of pull you apart," the senior said. "That's the whole philosophy of coach behind doing all this crazy stuff. When (adversity) happens he knows what he can expect from us, and that we won't crumble or fall apart. "Having chemistry, knowing that guys have your back in crunch time games definitely helps getting those crunch time wins."

Looking at ASU's next opponent, Washington State, some may expect a comfortable ASU win against a Cougar team who has certainly not preformed at the same level as the last two years. Sendek couldn't disagree more. "They a very good basketball team," the Sun Devil skipper said. "Their style of play requires you to have tremendous discipline, necessitates that you have quality possessions time and again. They play as good as team defense (leading the Pac-10) as most anybody in the country.

"On offense they are skilled. They certainly have one of the premier point guards in our conference in Taylor Rochestie and also have one of the premier centers in our conference on Aron Baynes. You add a talent like Klay Thompson – an outstanding shooter and they're formidable, very difficult opponent to go against."

Pendergraph noted the trademark effective man-to-man defense the Cougars employ, and echoed his coach's sentiments about Washington State being a very patient team on offense. "It ends up being a grind out game, and they play like that every game," he said.

Sendek dismissed any thoughts about having a possible letdown against the Cougars, a contest sandwiched between an emotional win at ASU's archrival and a much anticipated game versus Pac-10 leader Washington on Saturday.

"We have healthy respect towards Washington State," stated Sendek. "They've beaten us four straight times, they're two possessions away having coming in here winning five in a row.

"Our conference is a bear. I hear a lot of other conferences loud and clear, but let me tell you something – this conference is a bear."

On that note, Sendek said that the bye week for his team allowed his squad to mentally recharge from the normally grueling Pac-10 schedule. "The one great thing about the Pac-10 is that everybody does the same thing," he explained. "Everybody has a bye week; everybody plays each other home and home. We all go through the same schedule more or less, as opposed to some other leagues where that's not the case.

"It's a tremendous marathon. It really is."

Pendergraph said that practices were intense during the team's hiatus from Pac-10 play, but that was to be expected from Sendek and his staff.

"It was probably the longest week of practice ever," Pendergraph admitted. "It's the middle of the season, everybody is hyped about playing and then you have a forever break. It's pretty good, but it's hard to stay on guys and keep on working because it takes so long until the next game.

"If we want to win this week, we have to be back where we were offense wise and definitely stepping it up a notch or two on defense won't hurt. If not you're not doing that, you're playing with fate and anything can happen if you're not consistent in the things you're good at."

Sendek anticipates a good turnout for this week's games, and Pendergraph added that the two week hiatus from home games has felt even longer than that. "I'm getting tired wearing that maroon jersey," the forward quipped. "Finally having our crowd and not getting booed during the starting lineup. It's a good feeling. School is back in session and they'll (the students) be there for both games. Everybody watched us during break, so they (the fans) know what's going on. A packed house would be nice."

Pendergraph naturally acknowledged the buzz the Metro Phoenix area is feeling these days about the Arizona Cardinals and the upcoming Super Bowl game on Sunday, but was hopeful that "people won't forget that what we're doing here is a big thing too."

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