The win over the Bears was a special one as it was the last home game for Jeff Pendergraph and likely the final home game for the Pac-10 Player of the Year James Harden as well. Pendergraph put on a show with 27 points and 10 rebounds while Harden added 20 points. Cal was paced by Jerome Randle's 24 points but for a team that relies heavily on their three-point shooting, the Bears shot 24% from long range and could never quite make a strong enough run to cool the Sun Devils.
Without a whole lot of expectations after an off-season filled with controversy, the Arizona Wildcats (19-12, 9-9) seemed destined to make a late push into the Tourney picture with seven straight wins in the middle of the Pac-10 slate but the wheels fell off near the end of the season.
After the big win streak, the Cats lost on the road at ASU and then got swept in Washington before coming home and getting beat at home by Cal before snapping their streak with a 101-87 shootout win over Stanford. All three of Arizona's stars had a big day as Chase Budinger scored 28 points, Nic Wise had 27, and Jordan Hill put up 20 points. Jeremy Green had 22 points for Stanford while Glendale native, Lawrence Hill scored 21 in his final collegiate game.
Head Coach – Russ Pennell
G – Nic Wise – (15.0 PPG, 4.6 APG)
G – Kyle Fogg – (6.4 PPG, 40 % 3PT)
G – Chase Budinger – (18.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
F – Jamelle Horne – (6.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG)
F – Jordan Hill – (18.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG)
Well, for the last two seasons – it's been all Sun Devils. After sweeping the Wildcats last season, the Devils did the exact same thing again this season. In the first meeting, ASU won 53-47 in Tucson as James Harden scored 21 points while Jeff Pendergraph doubled up with 11 points and 14 rebounds to lead ASU. Jordan Hill led Arizona with 16 points and 15 boards but was called for an illegal screen in the closing seconds that sealed the win for the Devils.
The second game was a roller coaster as the Sun Devils jumped out to a huge lead early in the second half only to watch the lead dissipate and have Rihards Kuksiks save the day with some clutch shooting in a 70-68 win.
2-9. The Wildcats are 17-3 in the friendly confines of the McKale Center but outside of Lute & Bobbi Olson Court, the Cats are just 2-9 on the road and in neutral site games. The Sun Devils were an impressive 6-4 away from Tempe this season including four wins in Southern California.
When the Sun Devils have the ball
Harden and Pendergraph, the two first-team All-Conference players in the ASU starting lineup will be 1A and 1B as far as scoring options go but it's the "other" scorer that will be most crucial. Whether it be Derek Glasser, Ty Abbott, or Kuksiks – the Sun Devils are far more dangerous when a third player emerges as a scoring threat. With Jamelle McMillan likely out with a groin injury, the thin bench gets even thinner with just Jerren Shipp and Eric Boateng as experienced contributors. If a third scorer can show up; the Devils will be tough to beat.
When the Wildcats have the ball
The Wildcats average 72.7 points per game this season. The Big Three average 51.7 per game. Nic Wise has really picked up his game in the last couple months while Budinger has continued to be a versatile scorer and Hill keeps playing like a premier interior presence. The Wildcats also do well when a role player gets hot and demands defensive attention to open up the court. If one of the three struggles and/or Hill gets into foul trouble, Arizona will struggle. On the other hand, if they get hot and score at will; there is no stopping them. Having a player like Fogg or Horne score in double figures will go a long way towards a Wildcat victory.
Once again, Ty Abbott gets the nod as the player to watch. With McMillan out of the game, Abbott's role gets that much more important. Shooting woes aside, there are a lot of ways in which Abbott can impact a game. He plays stifling defense and plays much larger than his 6'3 frame. If Abbott can get a few buckets on offense and stop a few buckets on defense then his play could be the difference in the ballgame.
Who will win and why?
There are two things going for Arizona: first, they need to win or they probably won't make the NCAA Tournament and will end the streak of 24 straight tournament appearances. Second, it's just tough to beat a good team three straight times, or five straight times for that matter. For ASU, nothing would be sweeter than improving your seeding while crushing your bitter rivals' dreams in the process. This contest stands to be a very physical game and neither team will give up an inch. I have the Devils squeaking one out in the final minutes.
Final Score - ASU 68 Arizona 63