Sunday, February 3, 2008
The Gift and The Curse
All season long James Harden has looked like the savior of Arizona State basketball. Harden has been the reliable scoring option that ASU has needed since Ike Diogu left. Harden has been the freshman phenom that has carried ASU back to respectability in college basketball. He's been so good that the team now relies entirely too much on him.
Jeff Pendergraph is still victim to double teams in the post and Harden is the only other scoring option at this point. When he is out of the game, like on Saturday against USC, the Sun Devil offense sputters, to say the least. When Harden left the USC game early in the second half with foul trouble, ASU watched the Trojans make a 15-2 run and put the game out of reach for good.
The disappearance of Ty Abbott and Jerren Shipp on offense during this five game skid has been epic. The two have combined to average just 12.2 points per game during the losing streak, culminating in Saturday's game where they combined for just one point. Add to this that Christian Polk has lost his scoring touch from last year, whether it's through a lack of confidence or complacency, Polk has not been the scorer off the bench that the Sun Devils need. Herb Sendek has resorted to injecting Rihards Kuksiks back into the lineup to try to find anyone who can put the ball in the hole besides Harden.
Three of Harden's four fouls in the second half were offensive with the USC defenders realizing that with Harden's affinity for driving the lane, instead of leaving their feet to contest his shot, they could simply take a charge and get ASU's star out of the game. Give Pendergraph credit for making a couple of shots after Harden went out but it wasn't enough. Then ASU went three straight possessions with a shot clock violation. The Devils have gotten so comfortable giving the ball to Harden when the shot clock is running down that when he isn't in the game, his teammates forget how to score.
The defense that has been the hallmark of Sendek's Devils hasn't been able to make the stops when needed to keep themselves in these games. The UCLA game was a nightmare as the ASU offense was completely shut down and the Bruins seemingly haven't missed a shot in over a week, winning their last three games by an average of 26 points. That game was an expected loss; the USC game was one the Devils should have taken.
ASU now has the whole week to regain confidence - and hopefully a shooting touch - before hitting the road again to play Arizona in Tucson. To break this losing streak, ASU needs scoring from more than just Harden. The freshman has been amazing this year but he's been so good that the rest of the team is letting him do all the offensive work. ASU must get back to the basics and lock down on defense and regain focus on the boards. The combo of Abbott and Shipp are desperately needed to make an impact because they are both players that can affect the game on both ends but we have not seen that for a while. This team can get back to winning but it's going to take a lot of determination and hard work because there are no gimmes in the Pac-10 which ASU has quickly realized.