Devils not looking ahead

The eyes of the Sun Devils' are certainly on the prize, namely a regular season Pac-10 championship. A sweep this week at the Bay Area schools would be a huge step in achieving that goal. Nonetheless, this squad's mantra has always been about focusing on the task ahead and the maroon and gold won't underestimate their contest against Stanford this evening.

"Last year we had a similar weekend when we went up to Washington for first place in the conference," recalled guard Derek Glasser, "and we got swept. Last year at Stanford we (beat) them by 30 and they came down here and punked us by 15. I don't think that we are going to let that happen. Guys are really focused right now."

Arizona State Head Coach Herb Sendek stated that he never saw any signs this season that his team was overlooking one opponent or another. He adamantly commented that it would be "absurd" for the Sun Devils to even entertain such thoughts, overlooking Stanford for the looming battle for first place against California on Saturday.

"We have to play Stanford on Thursday and it's going to take one of our best games of the year to be competitive in that game," explained Sendek, "and we know that better than anyone on earth."

Furthermore, the Sun Devil skipper doesn't feel that he has to preach to his team to be careful of dismissing one opponent in favor of another.

"Does that mean if we don't win that's because they were looking ahead towards Cal? No," said Sendek. "Because when that ball is tossed up and you're on the court, you're thinking ‘how are we going to defend this action?' We're focused on the task at hand. I don't even spend a lot of time entertaining a lot of other possibilities.

"Having said that, Stanford is playing very well. They are especially good at home. We are going to have to be really, really good on Thursday night to win this basketball game."

"They have arguably two of the best players in the league, "claimed Glasser, "with Jeremy Green and Landry Fields. We know what is at stake but if we lose the Stanford game the Cal game means nothing. We definitely want to play for the championship of this conference and to do that we have to beat Stanford.

"They are a tough home team and they feed off their crowd, they are tough and physical and we know what lies ahead."

Exceeding expectations

It's no secret that the vast majority of Pac-10 pundits picked ASU to finish in the lower half of the conference following the departures of Pac-10 Player of the Year James Harden and first team All-Pac 10 selection Jeff Pendergraph.

Additionally, Ty Abbott missed a good deal of pre-season practices due to knee surgery and missed the season opener and was limited in several contests that followed.

With all those facts seemingly stacked against the team, Sendek is naturally pleased that with four games left in the regular season his group is in contention for the conference title.

"We already knew that we were going through a transition to reconfigure ourselves after losing two NBA players in just our third season here with the program," remarked Sendek. "It's not that we lost two guys but we lost them so early in our building process.

"The thing that was unexpected, that I think really sent our team in a different direction for a while was Ty being out. He missed arguably the most important practices of the year and in the beginning of the season was only able to play 12, 15 minutes a game. Arguably, we really didn't re-establish ourselves until after the first Pac-10 weekend."

During the team's media day the Sun Devil captain stated that he believed ASU could win the conference title. It was a proclamation that surely had some chuckling in light of the challenges that lied ahead for the maroon and gold, and naturally it is also a statement that is sounding very prophetic these days.

Glasser said that even after a disappointing start to Pac-10 play, being swept on the road by the Los Angeles schools, he still maintained that ASU was one of the league's best squads.

"If you would ask me then I would say ‘we suck…we're going 0-18' but I've always believed that this team had it in them to win the conference," acknowledged Glasser. "Coach Sendek says ‘it's never as good or bad as it seems'…I always thought this team could win the conference and I still believe that.

"I'm not saying that we are as talented as Cal, but we are a team. We are a family. It's hard to beat five guys that are together. Other teams have superstars, but I don't know if they are much of a team as we are. Coach Sendek is one of the best in the country and he sets us up only to do good things."

It's not just experience

Sendek agreed that having a strong nucleus of proven upperclassmen has smoothed the aforementioned transition in some regards. Yet, it's not just the sheer experience that has helped the Sun Devils avoid the proverbial rebuilding year.

"I think experience is important," stated Sendek, "especially if it's talented productive experience. One without the other doesn't get you far."

"I think we have matured a lot since last year," commented Glasser. "We play three seniors and three juniors, guys have been through the wars and we know how hard this game in Stanford will be."

The ASU coach feels that his team thus far has played: "really good basketball…They have gotten better offensively especially. Defensively, by and large, allowed us to be in the neighborhood. I look back at the course of our season and I think the team has played quality basketball.

"I always think the key in basketball is balance. The old adage is that defense wins and I suppose it does. But defense and offense are inseparable. I just think we'll have to play good basketball on both ends of the floor and we'll have to do it in the course of 40 plus minutes."

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