Beach's Breakdown - ASU

SEATTLE - The Washington Huskies (20-7, 11-4) return home for their biggest game in three years, after a gritty win last Saturday against USC. From their precarious perch atop the Pac-10 conference, just one game separates the Huskies from their closest competitor. That team?

The resurgent Arizona State Sun Devils (21-5, 10-4), who, after a mediocre start to conference play, have now won five straight, including big wins against UCLA, Arizona and USC.

It's no secret how the Sun Devils have managed their success behind the brilliant play of All America candidate James Harden. The sophomore from Los Angeles leads the conference in scoring at 18.9 points per game, and is among the league leaders in rebounding, assists and steals. The lefty guard is among the craftiest players in the country, using his superior strength and instincts to attack the basket at will. He's also a threat from long range, shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range.

Senior Jeff Pendergraph does the dirty work for Arizona State under the basket, averaging 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game in conference play. A concsistent double-double threat, Pendergraph is Herb Sendek's only legitimate low post scoring option. He hammered the Huskies for 21 points and 15 rebounds in ASU's 13-point loss to Washington in Tempe last month.

Beyond that, the Sun Devils are a hodge-podge of serviceable role players. Like most of Sendek's players, Rihards Kuksiks does most of his damage beyond the 3-point line, where he's 12-23 in his last four games. Kuksiks struggled to get his shot off against the Huskies, but ASU relies on the 6-foot-6 marksman to take some of the heat off of Harden.

Derek Glasser, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan rotate around the perimeter for Arizona State. None are a particular threat to impact the game, though they can all shoot the three on occasion. The Washington guards torched the trio, outscoring them 60-23 in their first meeting.

Where the Sun Devils really excel is on defense, and their five-game winning streak means their defense probably doesn't resemble the one that gave up 74 points at home to the Huskies in January. Sendek's match-up 2-3 zone does a surprisingly good job of limiting 3-point opportunities, and the Sun Devils lead the conference in 3-point shooting defense. Unfortunately for ASU fans, the Huskies don't care much about shooting 3-pointers, though Justin Dentmon did torch the Devils from outside in their first meeting.

Washington is an extremely difficult match-up for ASU. In their last meeting, the Huskies simply had too many weapons for the athletically-limited Sun Devils to handle, and that was before Quincy Pondexter and Venoy Overton became consistent game-changing threats. The Huskies' wealth of long defenders helped to limit Harden's field goal opportunities, with most of his 15 points coming in the second half when the game was out of reach.

Look for the Huskies to again swarm Harden, with Justin Holiday, Darnell Gant and Pondexter picking him up beyond the 3-point line, forcing the ball out of his hands. On offense, the ASU guards aren't quick enough to stay with Washington guards, so look for UW to try and attack the basket at every opportunity.

On paper, Washington should win this one going away, giving themselves a great shot at locking up their first league title in over 50 years. Top Stories