Zone of success

It started out as a necessity and has quickly become a trademark of the ASU team under Head Coach Herb Sendek. The Sun Devils' zone defense has been frustrating conference opponents for three plus seasons. This year it may be more effective than ever, as ASU leads the nation in least points given up (54.6). Ironically, Sendek never intended to employ that scheme when he first arrived in Tempe.

"If you would have told me when I came here that we would end up playing zone, I would have told you, no that's never going to happen, and then it did," Sendek admitted. "It happened the first year because we were desperate and it was a complete shot in the dark.

"I had no idea what the outcome would be; I certainly didn't intend to play it beyond our first year. Does that mean we're going to be playing it indefinitely into the future? Not necessarily. Heck I just changed my offense in January, midway through the season. That shows you how flighty I can be. We might change our defense for this Saturday."

The success Sendek and his team are experiencing defensively can be attributed to not only the skill level of his athletes, but also the importance and pride the maroon and gold feel about this scheme and their will to improve.

"It has to be important to you and you have to work really hard at it," Sendek said. "You always have to work really hard at it the next day. Just because you played really good defense on Saturday doesn't give you a guarantee that you're going to do it on Thursday, you have to do it all over again."

Communication has been a crucial element for the defensive success and Sendek encourages his players to engage in constant communication on the court, in order to continue to improve as a whole.

"I don't think that comes easily," Sendek noted. "Stressing and emphasizing communication and getting guys to communicate the right way can be quite challenging. Harder than you might ever think, you figure everyone learns how to talk usually by the age two but yet, when you try to translate that to defense, it can be really hard."

Another solid defensive performance will be needed on Saturday evening, as Herb Sendek and his squad face their archrival, the University of Arizona Wildcats, in Tempe. The Sun Devils have defeated the Wildcats in five consecutive matchups and are looking to continue their winning streak. Thriving off a successful defensive season thus far, Arizona State will prepare in earnest for the upcoming matchup.

"I do think our assistant coaches have done a really good job preparing our team through scouting," Sendek commented. "We continue to work hard to improve with our defense. Every time we watch tape, it's so obvious to us how much better we have to get but the guys have made improvements. It's important for us because we're not a team that has a big margin right now; we have to make sure we do our best on that end of the floor, possession by possession."

Not only will the Sun Devils be facing their rival, Sendek will also matchup against his former assistant coach at both North Carolina State and Miami (Ohio), Sean Miller, who is in the midst of his first year as the Wildcats' head coach. The Sun Devil skipper doesn't expect him or his former assistant to spend much time this week on reminiscing over old times.

"I think what you'll find is both of us will be focused, like any other game, in preparing our team," Sendek said. "What else are you going to do? It's not like you're going to have the luxury to take strolls down memory lane. We're focused on our teams and trying to help our teams be as prepared as possible for the game, just like we do any other game, regardless of who your coaching opponent might be."

Despite the knowledge of one another, Sendek doesn't anticipate some of their coaching similarities to provide any sort of advantage for either team.

"Our knowledge base is pretty limited to what we see on film," Sendek commented. "The way they are approaching this team, this season. What they are doing with this team, this season is perhaps not exactly what he did last season with his Xavier team or what he did four years ago at Xavier. Every year you're coaching the guys you have now the best you can. I don't see that it adds a lot more."

Saturday will be a challenge for the Sun Devils, not only to continue their current four-game winning streak, but also to maintain their success against the Wildcats. Because of the proven composure of his team, Sendek expects them to handle any scenario that comes their way.

"There can be great challenges in handling adversity and we've had a sampling of each here early in the season," Sendek stated. "I think our guys have historically been pretty even keeled; they've been resilient when we've been punched in the mouth and bounced back. They haven't gotten too carried away with themselves when things have gone our way, so I expect the same moving forward."

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