ASU lost another one point game to Washington State last night, making it two in a row against the Cougars. The most frustrating part for me wasn't the officiating, or the no call at the end, but rather that the game was ASU's for the taking and we didn't take advantage when opportunity presented itself.
ASU led for most of the first half and held a four point lead with 17 second left and a chance to push the halftime lead to six or seven. James Harden is dribbling up top, a ways back from the three point line and watching the clock tick down, waiting to make his move. Eric Boateng then decided that this would just not do and pitched a tent in the lane and took a nap, receiving a three second call. WSU then took the ball and scored with no time remaining, cutting the ASU halftime lead to just two points. Why, do you ask, was Boateng fighting for post position when Harden was clearly running an isolation play for the last shot? Well that's simple, Eric Boateng was playing in a different game all night. I knew things would not go well when I was watching him practice his post moves during pre-game warm-ups. I know he hasn't been playing long and I feel like I've given him more of a pass than most people have but he couldn't even beat the imaginary defender in his head with the post moves he was practicing before the game.
The key to beating the Sun Devils this year is getting Jeff Pendergraph in foul trouble. The Pac-10 has some great coaches but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more time Boateng is in for Pendergraph, the better chance you have at beating the Devils. That being said, I do still like Boateng. Maybe I'm just a softy but I always give big men more of a chance than guards. I think most people do. It's that whole potential thing that gets people like Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown selected first overall in the NBA Draft. With that aside, Boateng was awful on Saturday. He's had some decent games this year and has shown some growth but yesterday was a step backwards. Right after that three second call, he was caught badly out of position on defense and Harden had to come to the rescue again and make a block from behind to keep the player from scoring. Unfortunately, they ended up scoring anyway on the inbounds play.
Another frustrating thing was our lack of balance on offense. Harden is the only one that stepped up to the challenge and we get too comfortable letting him handle the entire scoring load sometimes. At the same time, I'm going to contradict myself here because there was a stretch where after giving up a bunch of Derrick Low threes and giving WSU a double digit lead, Harden scored on three straight possessions and cut the lead to six. Harden was sitting on 21 points with over 11 minutes to play and it looked like he was going to set a new career high and lead an impressive comeback. Then for some reason he quit penetrating, we started taking bad shots, and Harden didn't score for 5 minutes. This also coincided with Pendergraph sitting on the bench with 4 fouls, allowing the defense to focus solely on Harden. That being said, Harden's ability to draw fouls was ignored during those five minutes and we wasted precious time passing around the perimeter as the clock ran down.
Trailing by 7 with 2:30 left in the game (if my memory serves me correctly), you have to figure that Washington State is going to use up the entire shot clock on each possession and that the Devils should anticipate getting only 3 more possessions. Only then did Harden begin penetrating again, going to what had worked all game long. The defense did its part as well and got lucky that a couple of Cougar shots rolled off the rim and that ASU could cut the lead and have a chance to win the game.
Was he fouled? In my opinion, yes. Harden said he believed he was fouled but wasn't making excuses. I don't really like seeing games decided on fouls but on your home court, I think you should get the benefit of the doubt (some call that home court advantage) and get a foul call when someone who had been getting that call all night is hit in the lane by two different players. Yes the officiating was suspect all night, with odd calls away from the ball and strange no calls in the paint, but the officiating didn't cost ASU the game.
The Devils desperately need a third scoring option and Ty Abbott needs to step into that position. I'd like to see him penetrate more rather than just sit outside the arc and chuck up bombs. Sure he's dangerous and potentially game changing out there but he can slash better than anyone save Harden on this team but we so rarely see this. Having more than one wing that can attack the rim opens up the rest of the offense. Jerren Shipp has disappeared offensively and I'm not sure why Derek Glasser lost his starting position and a bunch of playing time when he was playing so well before, especially at the end of games. Hopefully we can sort this out soon and pick up at least one win on the road against UCLA, USC, and Arizona because losing six straight would be devastating to any postseason hopes.
The Devils play next on Thursday at UCLA at 7:30pm.