Devils Stay Loose, Snap Losing Skid

After a disappointing home loss to Stanford, one would expect the Sun Devils to engage in some soul searching of sorts. After an impressive 83-66 win over Cal, one would naturally attribute ASU's performance to their ability of effectively looking themselves in the mirror. As it turns out, you may want to "blame" today's win on a Friday night bowling session.

"It was a bonding thing," said forward Jeff Pendergraph about the player-only event. "We haven't done something like that in a while and we needed it. Everybody was just hanging out and enjoying each other's company.

"It was just us having fun, watching everybody suck at bowling."

Staying at a hotel Friday night, probably only helped the cohesiveness factor as well.

James Harden, who planned this event with Derek Glasser, explained that the team had to come together during a trying time. "We needed to get back to enjoying each other outside the court," he said, "and I think this would have helped us on the court as well. I think we did a pretty good job playing as one unit."

Pendergraph said that Kraidon Woods won the high scorer in the bowling alley with 175.

But the senior, who ‘forgot' his own score, gave himself a "gold star" for not fouling even once today. This was the second time Pendergraph was able to record such a feat. This went along with a 27-point, ten rebounds afternoon.

Maybe there is something to that senior day magic after all?

"You always want to win on senior day," said ASU head coach Herb Sendek. "Everybody stepped up for Jeff because he meant so much for our program, both on and off the court. He mostly certainly led the way. What spectacular performance he had this afternoon."

"I don't know. Everything was just flowing," Pendergraph said when asked about the mystique of senior day. "It was a real good game, not just for me, but for everybody. Everybody was just so into it. It was great atmosphere.

There was naturally a sense or urgency, as the maroon and gold tried to end a three-game losing streak that they wanted to avoid extending going into the conference tournament next week.

"All the guys stepped up today and were ready to play for the team," Pendergraph stated, "for themselves, for me. It really showed. We had to take it to them in order to win."

Sendek noted the team's recurring resiliency trait that obviously helped them rebound from Thursday's loss to play one of their best games of the year.

"They kind of have this even keel about them," he said. "It's a good thing and we talked about this over the course of the last two days. Those two tough losses in Washington, as gut wrenching as they were, our guys have the gift of youth and are able to stay in the present."

Nobody bounced back as dramatically as Ty Abbott who started for the sidelined Jamelle McMillan. The sophomore who was scoreless for the last three games, and has been greatly struggling in Pac-10 play, tallied five points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals, and showed the most hustle of any player on the court.

"There wasn't anybody who watched the game this afternoon, who couldn't helped but recognize the invaluable contributions that Ty had," Sendek said. "What a great reminder for all of our players that you don't have to score to be important or valuable.

"His effort was terrific. Countless times he went on the floor for loose balls…time and again he gave us an extra possession, gave us momentum by just making hustle plays."

"Ty really brought it today and everybody followed with him," said Pendergraph. "He brought all that energy…he was like the everything guy today. We had no other choice but to go with him and feed off him."

Pendergraph said that he was very happy that Harden came here because he made his college experience that much better and a lot easier. "People aren't going to forget me, James, this team," said the senior. "They're gonna remember us for a while and we're not even done yet. But it feels really good that you're not gonna be forgotten."

Harden was just as equally complimentary towards the forward. "He's the heart and soul of this program," Harden said. "He started when they were struggling to now when we're pretty good. He's a leader and we looked to him these last few games. He's playing phenomenal."

Harden could is a strong candidate to win Pac-10 player of the year, but his head coach couldn't really talk about just his player without mentioning other worthy candidates. "I can't be unbiased," Sendek admitted. "He's a great player and it's extraordinary how many great players are in this league. We saw today a couple of them for Cal. Jerome Randle - are you kidding me? Some of the shots he makes…and when you come up on him, he's quicker than anybody.

"Pac-10 is a great league and we as coaches have to vote on these All-Pac 10 teams. It's impossible."

"It would be a great honor," Harden said humbly. "It's a great accomplishment and I thank my teammates for putting me in position to score or create and make me better myself."

Whether Harden receives that honor or not, it's a forgone conclusion that the sophomore will enter the NBA draft. Chants of "one more year" were echoing today at Wells Fargo Arena, and Harden was naturally non-committal about his plans for next season and is squarely focused on the present.

"I was worried about the game," he claimed. "I was worried about winning. That was the most important thing. After the game I thought about it, but it's something I have to think about after the season, after our last game, and I don't plan thinking about it anytime soon."

Pendergraph believed that today's game can prepare ASU for the post-season game.

"Sometimes teams are complacent towards the end of the season, because they're already going to the tournament and it doesn't matter," he explained. "Everything matters, especially being on a three-game losing streak we didn't want to go into to the post-season like this. We want to set the tone for how we want to play coming up.

"We can't be happy with this. It's just a small step to what we're really trying to get. If that means winning the Pac-10 tournament, making a run in the NCAA tournament…we made up for three losses. But we're not done making up until we lose our last game."

Sendek agreed that this game was very important for his team.

"If we didn't win, is it the end of the word? Is our season over? No. But I think it was a pivotal game," Said Sendek. "We had the two very difficult games up at Washington; we had Arizona earlier that week so that was a three-game week for us. Then we came back and for whatever reason, I wish I could give you an explanation but I can't, we didn't have a good accounting of ourselves against Stanford.

"Tonight we played one the most talented teams, I believe, in the country and played well."

Harden liked the confidence which his team displayed today. "Guys are clicking now, making shots," he noted. "Rik (Rihards Kuksiks) made five threes…it was a great effort from our entire team and we look to carry it into L.A. and the Pac-10 tournament."

"We had a good game today," said Harden. "Hopefully we can keep it up and bring our same intensity and same mindset to be hungry. we don't want to settle for just making the tournament; we obviously want to go far. If we play as one unit, I think we'll go far."

Sendek singled out Pendergraph's senior campaign as his best year in the maroon and gold, but also said that his overall body of work since he got here has been impressive. He called the senior one of the most improved players in the Pac-10.

"That's saying a lot for a guy who's a three-year starter and already has Pac-10 honors beside his name. I think he has just improved in every area and has really been consistent," Sendek said.

"He's been a tremendous player and a fantastic ambassador for our program and university for four years."

Pendergraph took a victory lap around the court, high fiving fans he said have been there through good and bad times. "We're not done…we got to bring something back to Tempe. I'll see them (the fans) again," said Pendergraph.

And how does Pendergraph want to be remembered?

"The guy that always played hard every game, but always had a smile on his face," he replied. He wasn't a crazy guy that you couldn't talk to because he should have been in the crazy house.

"He's a guy that you enjoyed watching play basketball every time."


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