No Tournament Jitters for ASU

Since not one current ASU player has even been to the NCAA tournament, it would hard to blame any of the Sun Devils for being nervous in anticipation for their game against Temple in Miami on Friday. However, the businesslike approach that ASU has taken all year is serving them well before their March Madness debut across the country.

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"I think it's very much what we always do," said ASU head coach Herb Sendek about the preparations the team will undergo for its NCAA tournament game. "You get ready to play a basketball game. So we have to focus on our preparation, focus on the things we always do. Our players have played in big games, against good competition…so our focus needs to be on preparation.

"Obviously it is the first time for these guys, but I just don't see a lot of value in contemplating what that means or doesn't mean. Our investment needs to be in preparation and hopefully playing well on Friday because that's what it is going to take."

Guard James Harden also agreed that the a business as usual attitude will benefit the maroon and gold. "You have to approach this as a regular game," he said of the Temple contest, "play our butts off and do what we do, have fun out there. There's nothing more you can do about it.

"To make the tournament with this group of players we have shown a lot, how far we've come from. We don't want to settle and be happy that we're in the tournament. We obviously want to win some games."

Forward James Pendergraph noted that he didn't except fans to be as serious as the players are about the tournament. "They're saying you're going down to Miami and that's cool, whatever…but we need to win.' I like that attitude.

"I'm not going down there to just enjoy it and come back with an NCAA backpack or something. I don't need a backpack anymore. We have a game. We have a job to do. This is a business trip."

The senior acknowledged that it's impossible to downplay the hype that the tournament generates, but it's still important to treat the games in the same manner as others are treated during the season. He stated that he will always carry the mentality of that every game "could be my last game" and have a sense of urgency.

Flying across the country to play a game could be a challenge, but Sendek didn't feel that getting adjusted to the time difference was going to be an issue for his squad. The team will leave on a charted flight Wednesday morning at 9 am and are scheduled to arrive in Miami around 5 pm ET that evening.

The Temple game will tip-off at approximately 11:45 am PT and that time slot suits Pendergraph just fine.

"I like it because you wake up, eat and go to the gym," said the forward. "Then you have the rest of the day to sulk and be mad or enjoy and get ready for the next one. I like those (early) games better."

Pendergraph said that he and his teammates are anxious to play this game, and were anxious for Tuesday's practice where they would start to view the full scouting report on Temple.

Sendek was very complimentary when talking about his next opponent and has overall been very impressed from what he saw on the Owl on film.

"They're obviously playing exceptionally well right now," Sendek commented. "They just won their conference tournament including a big win over a four seed in Xavier, the regular season champions. Really going all the way back to their non-conference they have put together an outstanding season.

"They're an experienced team and you can't help but be mesmerized when you watch Dionte Christmas play. He makes shots that are indefensible. I've seen him make shots where defenders are draped all over him, do anything short of tackle him. He's not alone. They have a very complete team inside and out. They have productive depth. They don't have any weak links. It will be a real challenge for us."

Lavoy Allen is the force down low for the Owls, whom Sendek called a "ferocious rebounder…he's getting over four offensive rebounds a game and has 13 double doubles on the year."

Sendek added that overall Temple gets very good production from its post players and also players who aren't post-players but playing around the post area. On defense they are primarily a man-to-man squad, but at times have shown some zone defense looks.

Guard Jamelle McMillan's status for Friday is still uncertain. He didn't practice Monday and when asked if the sophomore is questionable or doubtful for the Temple contest, Sendek replied smiling "I wouldn't list him…we'll continue to evaluate him and see how he improves through the week." In McMillan's absence Ty Abbott has considerably stepped up his offensive production. During ASU's three Pac-10 tournament games Abbott has averaged 11.6 points a game and that stretch represented the first time all season that Abbott scored in double figures in three consecutive games.

Harden, who is Abbott's roommate, simply stated concerning Abbott "He's back. He was down; staying in his room…he wasn't the Ty that I first met. But these last three games he's Ty again and it showing on the court. He's knocking down shots, playing hard; blocking shots, diving on the floor…he's doing everything that he needs to do for us to win.

"He's confident and that's what got him out of the slump. He's the X-factor."

"The last three games, the only reason we were playing well was because of Ty," Pendergraph admitted. "Ty is buzzing and doing what he's doing, and we're a totally different team. You would think that as me or James go, our team goes. But when Ty is on it, it makes our team totally different."

Not having McMillan in the lineup forced Derek Glasser to log more minutes, and that led to a stellar performance in Los Angeles during the team's latest three-game stretch. The junior, who was voted to the All-Pac 10 tournament team averaged 13.6 points and four assists a game during that interval, and shot 50 percent or better in each of the trio of contests.

"I think he's playing his career best basketball right now," Sendek commented. "I thought he had an outstanding tournament. I think he really stepped up for our basketball team."

"Derek is just a solid point guard," Harden commented. He distributes the ball from point A to point B, can knock down the open shot, and he doesn't turn the ball over and that is the most important thing. He's a clutch player that has hit some big shots throughout this season. He's not the flashiest point guard but he gets it done."

"He knows that this is the last year that he will be a point guard of a team like this," Pendergraph explained, "having me and James around him. He's trying to take advantage of it. If (opponents) are going to play him the way they're playing him, because of me and James, he's taking advantage of it and hitting open shots. He's being more aggressive. He's being a point guard and a leader. He's showing he's post-season ready."

One team aspect that on the surface seemed to suffer with McMillan out of the lineup was ASU's ability to break opponent's full court press defense. "I thought our press offense against Arizona was really good," Sendek noted. "I think it was poor in the second half against USC, not because of anything other than the fact that they we didn't do anything well against USC in the second half. We played like a very tired basketball team.

"Jamelle not only helps us with our ball handling and press attack, he helps us across the board. We just went through a weekend where we played six, sometimes seven players three consecutive games and to get him back in the rotation obviously is important to us."

The ASU head coach felt that his team did get their ‘legs back' after playing three consecutive games last weekend and would naturally continue to improve in that area as the week went by. He said that he doesn't believe that certain teams are better equipped to win six games in a row during the three-week stretch of the NCAA tournament than others. He puts value on other factors that can lead to success in March.

"I buy into talent, I buy into preparation," Sendek stated. "And I also know that they call (the NCAA tournament) ‘March Madness' for a reason. I really believe the day after the tournament ends, if you would replay the entire thing, 40, 45 percent of the games may have a different outcome. They're gonna be a lot of close game that can tilt either way."

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