Devils prove their resilience

Earlier this week the ASU basketball team claimed that their disappointing road trip to Los Angeles to open league play was behind them. They added that some of the best practices of the year took place upon their return home. If anyone doubted the sincerity of those statements, a 68-51 win, their first Pac-10 victory this season, against Washington was a convincing statement.

"It's a big one for us," Admitted Ty Abbott who scored 17 points, "especially starting 0-2, starting out sluggish and to come back and have kind of a gut check…find out what we are made of, can we compete in this league? We found out we can. It was good for us."

The junior, as he did a few days ago, brought up the effective preparation he and the maroon d gold had for Friday's night contest.

"We had a lot of hard practices," Abbott stated. "We had a lot or energy. We could have been down all week, but we had a lot of good practices this week. We were really going hard, going at each other and really trying to get better.

"Midway through the week, I knew it was a turnaround."

Rebounding has been a deficiency that ASU has been battling all year. Against Washington, the Sun Devils dominated the boards 39-29, in what was probably their best display in this department all season. Once again, Abbott pointed to hard practices as the prelude to this performance.

"We showed a lot of heart," Abbott commented. "We were kind of fed up with getting pushed around. It was time for us to man up and get some boards."

Their performance on the glass was obviously a huge aspect of yet another stifling defensive performance, which limited the visitors to 29.2 percent shooting in the first half and 36 percent for the game.

The display wasn't manifested any greater than limiting Huskies' star Quincy Pondexter, who averages 21.3 points a game, to just eight points. How did ASU achieve this task?

"Just know where he was and when he got the ball try to play to his tendencies," Abbott explained. "Have help, but don't go double (team) and be man conscious. Dig at him and then go back to your man. Make it as difficult for him as possible."

Freshman center Ruslan Pateev played his best game as a Sun Devil in the Washington win. He entered the game just 3:20 minutes after tip-off and recorded his first of four blocks just over a minute later.

Abbott pointed out that Pateev was one player that provided much of the energy that characterized this week's practices. Ultimately that performance transformed to the game.

"He showed that he was really active on the boards," Abbott commented. "He altered a lot of shots and gave Eric (Boateng) a break. We went back and forth between these two."

Abbott was also complimentary of Pateev's fellow freshman Trent Lockett who scored 11 points, and was aggressive to the basket getting to the line 13 times, more than any other player on the floor on Friday night.

"He's really smart and adds a lot of energy for us," said Abbott. "He's a great defender, and offensively he's real tough to stop going to the basket. That's one of his strengths. When you got a guy like that that can go to the basket and create for somebody else…and he finishes as well. He's done real well for us."

Abbott didn't necessarily agree that there has been more of a concerted effort by the coaches to drive to the basket ore often. On the other hand, the opportunities to employ that scheme have been brought to the team's attention more that before.

"They have always been there," Abbott said of those aforementioned occasions, "but we have been more of a team that shoots the three. We really had some emphasis on driving and creating for everybody else. Now we are taking advantage of that."

Even the ultimate jump shooter, Rihards Kuksiks, joined the driving to the basket tendencies, and had a rare fast break dunk. Abbott quipped that luck, not practice, helped Kuksiks achieve that feat.

"He can jump a little bit," joked Abbott, "I know he could make that."

Nonetheless, as always Kuksiks' deadly three-point shooting abilities led the way for his offense, tying his career-high 27 points. The junior admitted he felt some pressure after his last outing, which was a two-point scoring game for him against USC.

"I came out aggressive," Kuksiks stated. "I got some open looks and I made the first two (three pointers) and from that point on my teammates did a good job finding me. I just knocked my shots down."

Starting at the 18:50 mark of the second half, when the Sun Devils led 31-21, ASU's lead never dipped below double digits the rest of the way. To no one's surprise Kuksiks also brought up his team's practices that emphasized good defense.

Even a quintessential scorer like Kuksiks, who by his own admission naturally prefers offense over defense, could appreciate the good defensive effort against Washington. The junior tied a career-high with nine rebounds, eight of them on the defensive glass.

"It's a lot of fun when you play hard on defense and you get stops as a team," Kuksiks commented. "If you play good defense your shots will fall down sooner or later."

So after starting 0-2 in Pac-10 play, maybe having some self-doubt creeping in, what did Abbot feel that he and teammates learned about themselves after this win?

"We don't have to concede," he replied. "We can rebound, that showed tonight. We can defend. We can play up and down. We can do what we need to do to win."


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