Devils Bounce Back Against L.A. Schools

With ASU's last home series resulting in a pair of disappointing losses to Washington State and Washington, the Sun Devils returned to Tempe after a road sweep of Oregon and Oregon State with a chip on their collective shoulder as UCLA and USC visited Wells Fargo Arena for a pair of high-octane, high-intensity contests.

Looking to complement their stunning overtime victory at Pauley Pavilion in January, ASU blazed to a 24-12 lead midway through the first half against the Bruins on Thursday, before allowing UCLA, led by Darren Collison and Michael Roll, to creep back into contention and enter the half with the score knotted, 35-35.

The Bruins seized the momentum and carried the lead throughout the majority of the second half, until Sun Devil guard Derek Glasser's three-pointer at the 7:17 mark to push ASU ahead, 60-58. UCLA snatched the edge again, but six minutes later Glasser completed the reflection of his previous dagger, placing the Devils ahead, 69-67 with just over a minute on the clock.

Helped by a pair of beneficial calls which allowed ASU to maintain momentum, the Devils would secure the lead through the remainder of the contest, handing a 74-67 defeat to the No. 11 Bruins, enabling ASU to become the first Pac-10 Conference squad to sweep its season meetings against UCLA since 2005-06, much to the delight of the crowd of 13,368 fans, many of whom stormed Ned Wulk Court after the home team took down the recent conference tyrant.

After the energetic victory, ASU enjoyed an extra day's rest from the usual Pac-10 schedule, taking on USC in a rare Sunday night match-up. Expected to be a physical, arduous encounter between two teams that have developed a heated rivalry over the past few seasons, the Devils and the Trojans certainly did not disappoint the more than 11,000 fans that ended their weekend in Wells Fargo Arena.

Both squads crawled from the gates, pacing to only a 10-10 tie midway through the first half, however senior Jeff Pendergraph and company alley-ooped ASU to a 10-2 run to conclude the half, resulting in a seemingly sizeable 29-20 edge at the break.

Similar to the lapse suffered three days earlier, ASU relinquished its early lead by allowing USC to orchestrate a 16-8 scoring run and take a 38-37 advantage with 12:36 remaining. Luckily for Sun Devil fans, Glasser, Pendergraph and sophomore James Harden redirected the action and led ASU to a 15-2 drive to cinch the lead backing the Devils' grasp.

USC dinked and dunked its way back into relevance, but with just under one minute remaining, the tide crashed line a tsunami against the Trojans, as defensive stalwart Daniel Hackett collected his fifth foul on what USC supporters deem to be a questionable charging call, igniting a raging tantrum from head coach Tim Floyd, who virtually ran cross-court to harass the officials, earning him a pair of technical fouls, an early departure from the evening's action and spoon-feeding ASU four free throws and possession of the ball, completely deflating any hopes for a USC comeback and allowing the Devils to conclude a 65-53 victory.

With the climactic and triumphant victories, ASU re-enters Pac-10 title conversations and the Devils now look ahead to wrap up the regular season slate on the pulse of major momentum sparked by these two gritty wins.

Game Balls: If the Pac-10 gave out an annual Most Improved Player Award, Glasser would have to be a front-running candidate this year, and he steadied that notion by leading ASU in scoring over USC, the school he had initially planned to attend before signing with the Sun Devils, after tying for the team lead in points against UCLA. Additionally, he chipped in 10 assists between the two games, made five-of-11 three point attempts and was clutch from the line – especially in the wake of USC coach Tim Floyd's late-game outburst – sinking 14-of-16 foul shots on the weekend.

Although not his typical highlight reel material, Harden was still a main component in the two wins, totaling 28 points and 12 rebounds, and made the very most of his opportunities by connecting on 10-of-14 shot attempts, a total very low for the conference's scoring leader, however seemingly each basket Harden converted had a major impact. Also worth noting is his 13 point effort on five-of-six shooting versus USC, after suffering a likely lifetime-low scoring night with only four points in ASU's loss at USC earlier this season.

Pendergraph set game-highs in rebounds in both contests, totaling 20 on the weekend while adding 26 total points and three blocks.

Seemingly having come close to shaking his scoring skid, Abbott 21 points, led by 12 against the Bruins, his first double scoring effort since Pac-10 play began.

Needs Improvement: If this column were written Friday, a case could be made against ASU's 17 turnovers that were committed Thursday against UCLA. However, the Devils buckled down with a school-record four turnover showing against USC, calming that concern and helping ASU push through to victory.

ASU's grit was surely tested in both games, and luckily victories were still gained after the Devils squandered a 12-point first half lead against UCLA and a nine-point advantage in the first stanza versus USC. Moving forward, it goes without saying that early leads will have to be cherished and not allowed to evaporate and the Devils will need to proverbially step on the throat of each opponent they face.

After sinking four-of-five three-pointers and totaling 14 points against the Bruins, Kuksiks barely registered on the radar against the Trojans, with zero points on only one missed three-point attempt and two errant foul shots. As the Devils begin to gaze toward postseason scenarios, the sophomore's outside accuracy and consistency will certainly be a commodity.

Up Next: Sun Devil fans, it doesn't get much bigger and more exciting than this. After a momentous sweep last week, ASU will prepare this week for rival Arizona, riding the wave of a seven-game win streak, crawls into Tempe with both teams having a legitimate shot at Pac-10 Championship glory. ASU survived not only a grueling, 53-47 victory in Tucson in late January, but took the season series from the Wildcats last year, largely uncharted territory for Sun Devil men's hoops. Sun Devil fans hope ASU does not repeat the same downfalls it suffered after the team's most recent week-long furlough from game action, as after the win in Tucson, ASU had an eight-day hiatus before ultimately losing to Washington State and Washington in Tempe, the only consecutive losses on the year for the Devils. Sunday's game expects to provide the physicality, intensity and postseason atmosphere that last week's contests showcased, with intrastate bragging rights and postseason positions largely at stake.

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