So are the words of Jawann McClellan. When asked after the game how this win affects the rivalry, he responded with the words you see in the title. The Devils are finally earning the respect of opponents and media after starting off 3-0 in conference play and 13-2 overall. Herb Sendek's Sun Devils currently sit alone atop the Pac-10 standings. Sure it's early, sure we haven't played the top teams in the conference yet, but we've earned the right to celebrate a bit. After watching a lethargic coach with subpar talent for years, it's so easy to get behind this team and this coach and start dreaming of March and what could be.
And what a year to be a Sun Devil, huh? The rise of the football team, the surprise play of the basketball team, top 10 baseball and softball teams, TWO national championships in women's track and field. Add on to that the Suns leading their division, the FBR Open coming to town, and that thing called the Super Bowl just down the road and it's hard to imagine a much better sports scene in the Valley right now.
But anyway, how about that game?!
Despite the second-worst half of play all season (opening half vs. Illinois was worse), including making only 3-of-18 shots to start the game, the Devils were able to persevere and pull out the tough victory in overtime, thanks to an amazing second half by James Harden and key plays by everyone else. Harden scored 22 in the second half and OT, and only one of his field goals came from behind the arc. The rest were on a display of acrobatic drives and free throws, and considering how he was being hacked in the lane and came up limping several times, he amazes me a little more each game.
Sure Harden finally looked like a freshman during the first half, as he stopped attacking after being hacked the first few trips into the paint with no fouls called. He even made a few mistakes and missed his first two free throws, but give him credit for being coachable and adjusting because he owned the second half.
One of the most fun things to watch was the exchanges between Harden and defender (or lack thereof) Daniel Dillon. The Arizona defender was draped over Harden all night and was in his ear during the first half. In true competitive spirit that was a bit Jordan-esque (too early?), Harden used his talent to shut Dillon up, then had a few words of his own. After hittting a three pointer, Harden backpedaled down the court along with Dillon while holding up three fingers and smiling the whole time. This along with some other good-natured trash talking is fun to watch from a player with as much skill as Harden.
Luckily, Harden wasn't the only one making big plays for the Devils. Pendergraph stepped up in the second half and had the huge tip in at the end. Ty Abbott had the huge off-balance 3-pointer coming off a screen the cut down the lead, and Eric Boateng had a big block late in the second half.
So my buddy Chris and I were trying to decide what Sendek was telling the team at the half, and we agreed that it had something to do with playing horribly in the first half on offense and still being down by just 7. Given that, ASU had every opportunity to come back in the second half and take the game. After the teams came out of halftime, Pendergraph and Harden were aside from the team talking to each other and you knew the second half would be a different story.
We also saw Christian Polk for the first time in a while due to early foul trouble by Ty Abbott and Polk also hit a big 3-pointer to contribute. I also did some investigation and found out why Polk hadn't been playing much of late. Part of it is due to the great play of Ty Abbott. Another part is because Polk had reportedly been goofing off in practice, trying to act like an And 1 baller and not paying attention, and earned his way into Sendek's doghouse. Cutting edge reporting from yours truly.
It was also great to see a sellout crowd and a student section that extended into the upper deck. Great support from the Sun Devil faithful and this should continue throughout the season. The atmosphere was electric and definitely helped the team pull off the comeback.
Overall, ASU made the necessary adjustments on defense to limit the Wildcat scoring and was lucky that many of Jordan Hill's shots rimmed out. That, and a healthy dose of Harden's scoring in the second half gave ASU the win. To be completely honest, I'd like to see more motion in the ASU offense but that's just nitpicking. If it ain't broke...