Devils Back at Full Strength for UCLA Game

Bouncing back from two home losses wasn't going to be easy, despite playing the bottom two teams in the conference. The fact that two starters missed games on the road trip, ASU was fortunate to get out of Oregon with two victories. With a showdown with #6 UCLA on the horizon, ASU got good news when both Derek Glasser and Rihards Kuksiks were cleared to play.

"We are doing better," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek, "Derek has been cleared and Rik continues to regain his strength. Other than some midseason colds, we are doing much better than a week ago."

Sendek applauded Kuksiks for giving it a shot and playing on Saturday against Oregon State despite looking and feeling quite under the weather.

"Most people would have been at home watching home movies and eating chicken noodle soup," Sendek stated. "But he gave us his best that day and made three really big three point shots that we needed and it allowed us to have enough to play five on five."

Having Glasser back is a significant boost for ASU. The junior point guard turned in one of his best games of his career at Pauley Pavilion earlier this season, playing 42 minutes in the win at UCLA and not committing a turnover.

"His improvement has been staggering. I remember his freshman year at Xavier I didn't know if he was going to get the ball up the court," said Sendek, "Now he has games like he did at UCLA. He has gotten better in every way. It is easy to forget that he was going to USC to walk on when Kevin Krueger left us in July. We were fortunate to have him available so we could have a point guard on the roster."

Glasser said he only remembers the hit he took in Eugene after he watched it on tape. He lost consciousness for a moment but then was told not to move by training staff.

"This is the healthiest I have felt in a long time, I had 10 or 12 days off from practice," said Glasser, "I have no headaches or neck pain."

Glasser will have to be ready to go on Thursday, because UCLA is playing lately like one of the top teams in the nation. The Bruins have dismantled Cal, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame since losing to Washington.

"I think it is very reasonable to say they are playing as well as any other team in the country," said Sendek, "Their margin of victory in their last three games is in excess of 23 points. We saw what they did to Notre Dame. Right now, if you take the last three weeks and say who is playing the best out of anybody and UCLA has to be in that argument.

"I think they are extraordinary on defense. Their defense fuels their offense. They are tough and physical and have great experience. They have a lot of strengths."

ASU's defense held the Bruins to just one field goal to over a 13-minute stretch over the end of regulation and overtime to pick up a rare victory in Los Angeles.

"They went through a stretch where they lit us up from three. I remember calling timeout being down 11," said Sendek, "It is not a function of a tactical adjustment, we got some stops and they missed some shots. It was a tight game, it could have gone the other way.

"Both teams played really good defense. Points were hard to come by. They missed some shots that on other nights they aren't going to miss."

When asked what factor the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena could have on Thursday, Sendek said he hopes to get an advantage out of the loud ASU crowd, but knows these Bruins are battle tested.

"Teams like UCLA have played all over the country. They have been in several Final Fours, they know how to play in different environments."

Since the victory against UCLA, ASU's offense has gone downhill. Sendek says it isn't difficult to see why ASU has struggled to score.

"Our offense hasn't given us much breathing room because we haven't made shots," he explained. "We have to make shots. That is where it is at.

"I think we've vacillated (on offense). We have played better in some games than others. That is how our sport goes. We had some wind taken out of our sails and we responded this weekend. We really had a gut check this weekend. Going on the road on the heels of getting punched in the gut at home, our guys responded pretty well."

In their victories, ASU has relied on its defense to pick up the slack, but against the Washington schools the defense wasn't there either.

"We are trying to apply good defensive principles and we have been able to keep games close with it," Sendek noted. Once again the Arizona State head coach defended his use of the zone defense and said that teams can get burned by a hot shooting team in any kind of defense.

"There is no right answer to all of this," Sendek claimed. "It is hard to do one thing well, let alone two. We try to keep it simple and do something well as opposed to doing multiple things and not doing anything well.

"It is a work in progress, it is amazing what we don't know. Every day we discover something that we didn't know. I see teams get shredded from the outside in man to man, I don't see it as a function of a zone vs. man to man."

ASU senior forward Jeff Pendergraph knows how big this week is for the Devils, just like every week. This will be the last time Pendergraph will match-up with former high school teammate Darren Collison.

"We know it is a big week but we approach it like any week," Pendergraph said. "The next game is always the biggest game.

"They have been playing really well lately. Since they lost they have been on a tear. Their defense has been off the charts. Darren has taken it personally and wants to get them back to where they have been. Their defense is always pressuring the ball. If that guy gets beat they always have each other's back and play hard on defense. They score a lot off of turnovers."


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