Harden's struggles don't faze Sun Devils

MIAMI – ASU followers have seen the Sun Devils prevail despite a cold shooting night by James Harden, but for others it was a surprise to see the Maroon and Gold, under the circumstances, be in control from tip-off to final buzzer in their win over Temple. Coach Herb Sendek and his players realize the value the All-American brings to the table even when he's well below his point production.

"Winning should be the most important goal," Sendek stated. "But we all have egos. We all have great desires to do well individually. How many times have we've seen through the years when I don't have a good game that really shows. My body language, my comments and most dramatically my silence.

"Well, here's James on a national stage. Obviously didn't have his best game. Yet, none of those symptoms showed. Listening to him in the press conference, seeing him in the locker room, he's somebody that is unselfish.

"Did he want to come out here and shine? Of course he did. It's his first NCAA tournament game in his career, CBS Television…watching him after the game engaged as he was, congratulating his teammates, thanking his teammates, answering questions like he did at the podium…to me that speaks volumes to what kind of person he is. It's easy to do that when you score 32 points and everybody is telling you how great you are. But it wasn't his day."

Sendek said that he's constantly challenging Harden, and he knows that this star guard carries a lot of expectations as well and rightly so.

"But somewhere in all that, as leaders, as teammates," Sendek said, "we have to let him be just James Harden. I want him to know that I have all the confidence in the world in him. You saw us put the ball in his hands the last four minutes.

"But at the same time, I don't want him to feel like Atlas carrying the globe around. It's not fair to anybody, especially someone as young as he is. So there's a fine balance.

"That's the beauty of team sports – everybody has a job."

Harden's silence could have come across as egotism. However, while he didn't show that much emotion during the game, it shouldn't come across as the sophomore sulking in his bad outing.

Forward Jeff Pendergraph feels that Jeff is just keeping his composure despite being frustrated.

"I'm the extraverted guy and James is introverted," Pendergraph explained. "He's not the vocal leader that's my role. He's the guy we look to when things are kind of struggling. They know I'll be there diving on the floor, but they look for James because they know it's gonna fall on him.

"When he does show all that emotion, he's clapping, he's yelling and everybody gets confidence. That's when things really get crazy."

Coming into the Sun Devils-Owls contest, the buzz by the national media seemed to portray the game as a matchup between two proverbial one-man teams: Dionte Christmas for Temple and James Harden for Arizona State. Considering that Christmas scored slightly more than half of his team's points in a loss, while Harden contributed eight of his squad's 66 in a winning cause, it was easy to realize which team truly had to rely on their star player.

"Throughout the season they have been stepping up," said Harden of his teammates, particularly of Derek Glasser and Jeff Pendergraph who combined for 44 points. "He's (Glasser) is definitely stepping up. Jeff is playing like an All-American. So it's not just James, it's the entire team and like I said they showed it today."

Glasser agreed with the assessment that he has started to shoot the ball more in the last month and half, something that has obviously helped his teammates in the process.

"It helps James and those guys when I'm scoring," he said. "They can't double me up. Earlier in the season they were practically run away from me and leaving me wide open and go double James.

"Now teams aren't able to do that and it's just gonna help us."

Harden denied any claims that his nine point output was attributed to being to possibly nervous on a national stage.

"It was one of those games where the shots weren't falling," he stated. "It was hard to get in the grove of the game. Credit to my teammates, they picked it up. That's why we are still playing on Sunday."

Harden did score his first points, a three-point basket, with 4:45 left in the contest, which seemed to ignite his game and help him step up the duration of the match.

"Last couple of minutes I started to be more aggressive," Harden admitted, "and just create it for my team. Throughout he game I didn't play my best, and the last couple of minutes I wanted to give my all and go out with a fight."

A few words of encouragement from teammates Jeff Pendergraph certainly didn't hurt.

"This is your time right now," recalled Pendergraph concerning his conversation with Harden. "This is the last four minutes of the game. We don't need you to be dropping off. This is what you do for us – you're James Harden. And he said ‘JP you're right – let's go.' Next thing you know instead of being passive with the ball, as soon as he caught it he attacked the basket and started getting fouls. That's when he's the best, because people have to back off of him and he shoots threes and then you can't stop him at all."

Sendek acknowledged that even on an uncharacteristic day Harden still can make his teammates better by providing scoring opportunities. Nonetheless, he did concur with Harden's assessment of the waning moments of this afternoon.

"It's a tremendous asset and gift at the end of the game, as much as it mat not have been his afternoon, he made a number of plays that allowed us to win," Sendek said. "He made the big three behind the ball screen; he got to the foul line several times.

"So when the game was on the line and down the home stretch, he was still able to have to presence of mind to reset himself and play exceptionally well. That's not easy to do when you're not having your day."

"He's so good at creating," Glasser noted. "No matter how bad he's shooting when he gets into the lane teams will converge on him and guys are wide open. He doesn't force that much. He does a great job of kicking out and he did that today."

Glasser full of good play

In his last five games, Glasser is averaging 15 points per contest shooting over 50 percent from the three-point stripe, as well as overall from the field. He earned All-Pac10 tournament honors for his three-game stretch prior to the Temple game, and the point guard is certainly feeling the momentum of his fine play.

"I expected to build on (the Pac10 tournament)," Glasser stated. "I'm playing as confident as ever. I think for a team to make a run at this tournament you have to have a great point guard. I know that coming down the stretch I'm asked to elevate my game."

The junior score a career-high 22 points against Temple.

"Our offense just created open looks for me and it just happened through the offense and I was open so I took them," he said.

Pendergraph went as far as to say that Temple defended Glasser "like he was some kind of bum" and naturally took pleasure in the point guard's performance.

"It seems that teams sometimes don't respect Derek as a player, like he can't shoot the ball or anything. I don't know how many times he got a three coming off a pick and roll on the top of the key. That's the easiest shot to make. That's like a driveway shot.

"I would think that right now people would have seen tape on him and kind of emphasize (defense on Glasser), but the pick and roll is hard to guard. If they don't help on Derek, he'll shoot it. If they help too much then it's a dunk for me. It causes matchup problems for teams."

"It's the hardest offense to defend," said Glasser of the pick and roll. "Teams have to pick and chose their poison. If they are gonna help off of or not help off of. I think the biggest thing for us is that we've been doing a great job able to read ball screens late in the season. James comes off, he doesn't force up a shot, he attacks the basket, makes guys help (on defense) and kick it."

Glasser chuckled when asked if the effective pick and roll he and Pendergraph run is reminiscent of the great ex-NBA duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone, and added as he points to Harden: "and that's Jeff Hornacek right there."

The junior said that there really wasn't much urging by the coaches for him to step up and that it was rather a slow developing process. "A few games I have taken more shots," he stated, "and they (the coaches) stay confident in me."

Glasser also attributes his health to his recent success. Last year a knee injury prevented him from practicing, although he played, for the last few weeks of the season. In the 2008-09 campaign he suffered a concussion and took a hit to the face right before the first half ended, and in the second stanza he took a knee to his tailbone. Nonetheless, he's doing well physical compared to this time last year.

"After having surgery (on his knee) over the summer it's as strong as ever," said Glasser. "Having two strong knees down the stretch is helping me."

Senior moment

No one can appreciate this victory more than senior Jeff Pendergraph who has seen the program rise from the ashes to national prominence in his four years in Tempe.

"We didn't play the best game," he confessed, "It wasn't pretty. But sometimes these feel the best at the end of the day. Guys just toughed it out and guys came to play on a big day, big stage."

Pendergraph tied a team-high scoring 22 points against Temple and most of them came down low against 7-0 220 Sergio Olmos. Despite giving up three inches, the senior was eagerly anticipating that matchup.

"He's seven-foot but one of those rare occasions when I outweigh one of the big men," said the 6-9 240 forward with a smile. "So I tried to use my physical nature, size, and weight against him. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, and regardless of what he weighs he's still seven feet tall.

"But that was definitely one of the things – trying to attack him."

"It wasn't just the function of the matchup," Sendek noted. "It's also because Jeff is playing so well. We really tried to get the ball to him. Just like we talked about James, when Jeff gets the ball inside people benefit as well."

Bend but no break defense

Limiting Temple to 37 percent field goal shooting and 57 points may look pretty impressive on the stat sheet, yet Sendek knows that his team could have done better.

"Our defense certainly wasn't a masterpiece today," Sendek acknowledged. "We found ourselves scrambling, covering for each other in ways that we ordinarily don't have to. I think Temple did a really good job. Dionte Christmas is such a force to be reckoned with that he disjoints you in ways that aren't to your advantage. We can pat ourselves on the back knowing we held him to 29 points (smile).

"But once again our offense has been pretty efficient. Our turnovers are relatively low; once again we shoot over 50 percent from the field, so I think our relative offensive efficiency and our defense, although not a masterpiece might have been just sticky enough to allow us to hang on."


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