Devils hang on to tip Trojans

Arizona State vs. USC. Did you expect anything else but a hard fought thrilling battle? Neither team had a substantial lead tonight at Wells Fargo arena, as the Sun Devils did just enough to secure a precious Pac-10 victory as they squeak out a 59-54 win. The game's outcome seemed to be always in the doubt throughout the night and the last 42 seconds prove that point like no other.

- After scoring on a steal and a fast-break layup, USC (16-13, 8-9 Pac-10) cut their deficit to 53-51 with 42 seconds left and calls timeout.

- Arizona State (21-9, 11-6) has to call two consecutive timeouts, following the USC one, because of their inability to inbound the ball following the Trojans' score.

- On their third attempt inbounding Derek Glasser is fouled and sinks in both free throws to make it a four-point game.

- A basket interference call against USC's Leonard Washington negates a visitor's basket. USC fouled Glasser again, but the normally reliable senior misses the front end of the 1 and 1 - Marcus Johnson scores a three and now the ASU lead is just one with 18 seconds left.

- Rihards Kuksiks gets fouled this time for the maroon and gold, and his two charity stripe tosses give his team a 57-54 edge with 15 seconds left.

- Eric Boateng with probably his biggest blocked shot as a Sun Devil prevents the Trojans from cutting the deficit to one again and Glasser ices the game with two more free throws.

- Nothing ever comes easy against these guys, does it? The fact that USC cannot participate in the post-season, due to self-imposed sanctions, never affected the way they played tonight in Tempe.

"We fully expected them to play hard," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek. "They're an excellent team and they are very well coached. They have tremendous pride. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country.

"Coming into tonight they were holding opponents to somewhere in the neighborhood of 38 percent field goal percentage on the year. That's staggering. But even when guys play shirts and skins and go cross-town guys play hard and want to do their best. We didn't get anything easy. It really was hard to score."

It took nearly three minutes from tip-off for ASU to score on a Kuksiks three-pointer, but during the first ten minutes of the contest the Sun Devils went on a 11-3 run to grab a 14-10 lead at the 10:16 mark. Both teams kept each other in check the rest of the period, and the hosts had a slim 23-21 lead at the half.

The second half was a classic battle where in the first nine minutes the score was tied five teams and the lead changed hands on six occasions. ASU lead for the last ten plus minutes, but was never able to enjoy an advantage larger than five points.

After converting at just a 30.4 percent clip in the first half, ASU was torrid in the second stanza shooting 55.6 percent. Six of its 11 three pointers took place in the last twenty minutes. Overall, a far cry from the record low 37 total points ASU registered in the first meeting this season between both teams.

"I think our team is a good distance from where we were that first weekend in January," declared Sendek. "Our team really has to really trust each other. I don't have a problem with us taking a shot on one pass if it's a good shot. And if not, if we have to use the whole shot clock that's fine too. We trust those guys to be unselfish, move the ball and play together."

Kuksiks led all players with 24 points, and was 6 of 9 beyond the arc.

"Rik played a great game for us tonight," acknowledged Sendek. I think he really started with him making a great effort to move without the ball and his teammates did a terrific job screening for him and hitting him when they were open.

"What can you say? Six 3's and he made those two clutch free throws."

And what about the offensive-minded junior's defensive effort which included five rebounds and three steals?

"With Rik playing defense, that's a great bonus for us," remarked Sendek with a broad smile eliciting laughter from reporters.

Glasser scored 11 points, a feat that made him the only player in school history to score 1,000 points and record 500 assists in their ASU career. Eric Boateng had nine rebounds and two blocks.

USC was paced by Mike Gerrity and Marcus Simmons who each had 11 points.

This game certainly had a post-season atmosphere to it. With all the peaks and valleys on Thursday night, were jitters that are common to post-season games partially to blame?

"This group is amazing grounded," remarked Sendek of his team. "They do a tremendous job keeping their poise. They're not easily rattled and at the same time they don't get carried away with themselves when things go well. They have a very present minded approach.

"I think they were fully aware that this was an important game. They're not isolated from all the talk. But at the same time they were focused on preparation and the next possession."

And the team's collective focus undoubtedly is now on UCLA, a contest that concludes the regular season. Tip-off is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. Seniors Derek Glasser, Eric Boateng and Jerren Shipp will be honored prior to that game.

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