Thursday, February 14, 2008
Devils' Magic Continues
For anyone who has ever had any doubts about the hiring of Herb Sendek or the job he has done in his two years as head coach, let this quote from the AP recap of the win over Stanford sink in:
"It's the Sun Devils' third victory over a ranked team in two seasons under Herb Sendek -- one more than they managed from 1995-2006."
That's eleven years of ineptitude fading into the past as Herb Sendek leads this squad toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure they lost five straight games, but that was after winning 10 straight -- two more than last year's season win total. Since that losing streak, the Devils have gone on to win in dramatic fashion on the road against archrival Arizona and at home against the #7-ranked Stanford Cardinal.
Thursday night's win over Stanford could prove to be a benchmark victory for the Sun Devils. ASU finally got the role player support that has been mostly missing over the last six games as Rihards Kuksiks played the best game of his career and Eric Boateng (!) came up big in overtime with two crucial rebounds and the free throw that sealed the victory.
This was a game that the Devils sorely needed to win and the perseverance shown by these young players was remarkable. Trailing by nine points with three minutes to play and still down seven with only 1:49 to go, ASU somehow pulled out the win over a top-10 team.
Jeff Pendergraph had another great game with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks before fouling out just before the end of regulation. James Harden took over from there, scoring 8 points in overtime by repeatedly driving the lane and drawing fouls. James Harden had a relatively quiet game until late and then you look at the box score and find 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. He does so many things so well that he can impact a game without scoring, then turn it on whenever needed. Plain and simple: the guy is a stud.
Kuksiks came up big during the final push to tie the game with a dunk while drawing a foul and a huge 3-pointer to cut the Cardinal lead. Ty Abbott then chose the best possible time to make his first and only basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the left corner. Going into overtime, things looked tough as ASU's only real post defender, Pendergraph, was out of the game. Into the game came Boateng and Sun Devil fans held their collective breath. Who knew that he would make several big plays to preserve the ASU lead built by Harden? Boateng made a huge offensive rebound, knocked a ball away from Brook Lopez, and grabbed the final defensive rebound before being fouled. Up by three, ASU needed Boateng to convert just one of two free throws. Boateng had been shooting about 35% from the line for the year. 35 percent?! While he was at the line, I knew the first one wasn't going in. He was way too excited, his face scrunched in determination and fire. You could tell before he even let go that he was going to shoot it too hard. Thankfully he calmed down and sunk the second free throw to clinch the game.
Of all people, Eric Boateng came through in the clutch and the Devils awarded the Valentine's Day fans with a big win. The Sun Devils are now 7-1 in games decided by 10 points or less. Last year's team was 4-17 in games decided by the same margin. ASU next faces California on Saturday at 4:00pm at Wells Fargo Arena. The game will be televised on FSN and broadcast on 620AM.