The Sun Devils are riding a five-game winning streak, their longest such streak in Pac-10 play since 1995. Their most recent win was at home against the hated Arizona Wildcats. It was a roller coaster game as the Sun Devils built a 17-point lead early in the second half only to see the lead disappear in the final minutes of the game but a pair of big three-pointers from Rihards Kuksiks helped ASU seal the deal; a fourth straight win over Arizona.
The Sun Devils were led by James Harden with 18 and Kuksiks with 17 in the 70-68 victory. Nic Wise had 17 for the Wildcats, which saw their seven-game winning streak snap. Their last two losses have been at the hands of Arizona State.
Also playing extremely well, the Huskies have won four out of their last five and are 14-1 when playing at home. This past weekend, they were on the road in Los Angeles to play UCLA and USC. Against UCLA, the Bruins just outplayed the Huskies and won 85-76. The Huskies were led by Justin Dentmon with 22 points while Jon Brockman had 16 points and 14 rebounds. UCLA was paced by all five starters in double-digits including 20 points from Josh Shipp.
In the weekend capper, the Huskies traveled to USC and won an ugly game, 60-51 in which only one player scored in double-digits for UW and that Quincy Pondexter with 22. The Trojans were led by 11 points from Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis.
Head Coach – Lorenzo Romar
G – Isaiah Thomas – (15.9 PPG, 2.7 APG)
G – Justin Dentmon – (15.8 PPG, 47% 3PT)
F – Quincy Pondexter – (11.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG)
F – Darnell Gant – (3.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
F – Jon Brockman – (14.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG)
In late January, Washington dealt the ASU their first home loss with an 84-71 thumping. Dentmon scored 30 points and Thomas poured in 25 as the Huskies shot 52% from the field and got to the free throw line 34 times. The Sun Devils got a big game from Jeff Pendergraph as the senior big man had 21 points to go along with 15 boards.
28.3. The Sun Devils are the Pac-10's best road team with a 6-2 record away from Wells Fargo Arena but their three-point shooting away from home has been abysmal to say the least. Shooting just 28.3% with the long ball may be excused against weaker opponents but Washington is too good to miss open shots. If the Sun Devils can hover around 40% they will be in business.
When the Sun Devils have the ball
Harden and Pendergraph are naturally the primary scoring options with Glasser, Abbott, and Kuksiks all getting the starting nods as well. The Devils have been awfully balanced in recent weeks and it's not surprising that they've been successful with a spread-out scoring attack.
Harden will need to some more creating this time against UW as he was held at bay in the previous meeting and the ball wasn't distributed as much. He and the rest of the guards need to successfully combat the Huskies' pressure defense. If Kuksiks can keep up the hot shooting, that's just one more problem that they will give the Huskies and that may be the difference. Jamelle McMillan has been showcasing a hot hand lately, and as he returns to his hometown he undoubtedly would like to continue his recent success.
When the Huskies have the ball
With a pair of lightning fast guards that can shoot and a physical big man, Washington has the look of a heavyweight and that is what they've been all season. Thomas and Dentmon form a lethal backcourt while Brockman leads the Pac-10 in rebounding. Pondexter's situation is similar to that of Kuksiks' – if he can be a fourth scoring option for the team – the Sun Devils will be in real trouble in front of the hostile Hec Ed crowd.
Even though Thomas and Dentmon scored at will in Tempe last month, they didn't exploit ASU's zone with long range baskets, and rather penetrated the paint with regularity, which allowed them to score and/or go to the line. If the Devils can successfully clog the middle, they might be willing to their chances with Washington's outside shooting. Brockman was very quiet when the teams last met, and Pendergraph needs to ensure that Washington forward is held in check again.
With one of the most athletic backcourts in the country – Derek Glasser will need to be on his game on Thursday night. The ASU point guard has been the proverbial glue to the team all season long and his heady play and clutch shooting cannot be replaced. However, Glasser will need to be on high alert against the Huskies. They are fast and they run up and down the court at ease, and he will need to slow down the tempo and make Thomas and Dentmon work for everything they get.
Who will win and why?
It's a tough call. The home team plays well in front of their purple-clad faithful and have surprised everyone by being on top of the Pac-10 standings while the visiting team is on a roll and having a season for the ages. I think the Sun Devils return the favor from January and spoil the Huskies' evening. Harden will be tough to stop and Kuksiks and Abbott will take advantage of their open looks.
Final Score – Arizona State 75 Washington 71