Devils Prepare to Take on Red-hot Wildcats

Happy birthday Herb Sendek. ASU's head coach will celebrate his 46th birthday on Sunday and his present, is facing possibly the hottest team in the country. Even though the challenge of cooling down rival Arizona is not easy, the gift could be quite rewarding.

"They are playing as well as anybody in our conference and as well as anyone in the country," said Sendek, "They are hitting on all cylinders. They are becoming a juggernaut offensively. They are a very good basketball team."

Sendek doesn't, however, put more emphasis on the rivalry game. He feels that his team will give its all no matter who the opponent is.

"What could we do to put more emphasis on it?" asked Sendek, "What can you do to make it more special? It isn't possible, because we use all we have in every game. When you try your best and you care so much, how do you give more than all?"

"Every game is big, that has been our refrain each week. We always talk amongst ourselves about how big the next game is."

To some extent, senior Jeff Pendergraph disagreed with his head coach. The forward thinks that the game will be even more hyped up due to the success of both teams this season.

"They don't want to get swept and they are playing really well right now," said Pendergraph, "I don't know if you could amp it up anymore.

"They were in the bottom and said this isn't where we belong. Guys picked their game up, their whole team has."

Pendergraph is hoping to go where few Sun Devils have gone before. With a victory on Sunday, the senior can say that he went 4-0 in his last four contests against his rival.

"Not too many guys who played before me go 50-50 against UA and win their last four meetings, it would be awesome," he admitted. Pendergraph was close to Arizona interim head coach Russ Pennell while he was at ASU, as a broadcaster. Therefore, he greatly respects the job Pennell has done in Tucson.

"Expectations weren't that high this year with Coach Olson leaving and guys leaving," said Pendergraph, "But Coach Pennell got them all together. The guys that are still there are the guys you want there. Coach Pennell is a real good coach and a great guy."

The last time the two teams met, the game wasn't very pretty if you're partial to offensive basketball. Pendergraph says that he doesn't mind winning games with defense, because he knows that his team sports one of the best in the conference.

"We play a lot of ugly games," laughed Pendergraph, "The game at USC, the UA game, even at UCLA. That is what happens when you play good teams, you have to win it with defense. We don't mind playing ugly games because we know we have our defense to fall back on."

"I think it is going to be ugly," he said of Sunday's game. It isn't going to be like the All Star Game. It is going to be a tough defensive match-up."

Sendek doesn't think that just because the first game was a low scoring affair, that the second meeting will follow suit.

"It was that game and that time," he explained. "This time both teams can score in the eighties. Every game takes on its own storyline, its own life."

ASU has won close games late, mainly because they have held their composure in tight situations, while their opponents haven't.

"We have had a couple of games like that," said Pendergraph of games coming down to a call late, "Once that stuff starts happening, I don't think about the call. I just think that this is a good thing for us. You can't depend on stuff like that to win you a game. You can't hope in the last minute that their coach gets a technical."

One surprise of last weekend was the improvement shown by Ty Abbott. Sendek doesn't see Abbott as just a shooter, but knows he helps the team in many different aspects.

"We don't define his role exclusively on shooting," said Sendek, "There are so many other ways to add great value in what we are doing. He is not a designated shooter. He has so many other responsibilities or roles to fulfill for us to be well."

Pendergraph knows that sophomore will continue to turn it around, just because of his work ethic.

"Ty has been working his tail off in practice," said Pendergraph, "Before the USC game he was here an hour and a half before we were supposed to be here. He put up 500 shots before the game.

"Ty is on a mission right now."

The Devils find themselves in one of the most highly contested conference races in the country. ASU trails front running Washington by just one game, while UCLA and Cal are 1.5 games back the leader and Arizona is just two behind the Huskies.

"I can't remember the last year in any conference that I've been a part of that a conference hasn't gone into the last few weeks where a few games hadn't separated teams," said Sendek, "I don't think it is uncommon. Anybody can beat the next guy."

Pendergraph thinks this is the deepest the conference has been since he arrived in Tempe.

"I think so, most balanced since I have been here. Everybody is beating everybody. It is super close, everybody is right there but that is good for the Pac 10."

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