Get the cake. Find the candles. It’s almost ASU men’s basketball coach Herb Sendek’s birthday.
When No. 14 ASU (20-5, 9-4) hosts rival UA (18-8, 8-5) on Sunday, Sendek will turn 46.
What would be a better birthday present than a victory over the archnemesis?
The last time these two teams met, it was ugly. Real ugly.
The Sun Devils won 53-47 on Jan. 21 in Tucson despite shooting 28.6 percent. The victory, in large part, was due to the fact that UA shot just 29.1 percent themselves.
“It was terrible,” ASU sophomore guard James Harden said. “It was just a wild game. I think our defense helped us win the game. There’s going to be nights when the offense isn’t going to be there. But if we have that mindset that defense is going to get us out of this game, then we can have a chance at every game.”
So what to expect from in-state rivals this time around? Who knows.
“That was that game, that time,” Sendek said of the first meeting. “This time the two teams may score in the 80s. Every game seems to take on its own storyline, its own life. It has a new beginning and a new end.”
Listening to junior guard Derek Glasser, though, it seems 80 is the magic number. The Wildcats have gone 7-0 since ASU defeated them, putting up some crooked numbers along the way.
“I’m not expecting the game to be in the 40s like it was last time,” Glasser said. “They want to get up and they want to go. We like to run, but we don’t like to play the game in the 80s or 90s like they do. We’re definitely going to have to get some stops to win.”
Glasser added that ASU will probably have to extend its zone out a little farther than usual on Sunday, given the recent success of UA’s perimeter players — namely, point guard Nic Wise and wing man Chase Budinger.
On Monday, Wise was named Pac-10 Player of the Week after averaging 26.5 points per game in UA’s home sweep of the Los Angeles schools last week. Wise was incredibly efficient, knocking down 17-of-24 attempts from the field (70.8 percent), while hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers.
It seems Budinger — and the whole team for that matter — has been playing inspired ball ever since his face got stepped on against Houston in the contest after the ASU game.
Budinger is averaging 20.4 points and eight rebounds per game during UA’s current win streak. Meanwhile, forward Jordan Hill has kept up his stellar play, averaging 19.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
Talk about beastly.
“Their best three players are playing their best,” Harden said. “They’re playing like NBA pros.”
With Harden, Hill and Budinger, three possible NBA lottery picks may be sharing the floor Sunday. But Harden reiterated that this game will be won with defense.
Offensively, ASU is pleased to see the reemergence of sophomore Ty Abbott, who had been mired in an extended slump.
Over the weekend, Abbott averaged 10.5 points and knocked down a few key 3-pointers along the way. ASU senior forward Pendergraph said Abbott put up about 500 shots before the rest of the team started the shootaround before the USC game, and Glasser said Abbott was the team’s best shooter all week.
“Ty’s on a mission right now,” Pendergraph said. “He’s really doing a great job and still contributing and being a big-time player for us down the stretch.”
Barring a matchup in the Pac-10 Conference tournament, this will probably be Pendergraph’s last crack at UA. He said it would be “awesome” to win his last four games against the Wildcats, but he has bigger things in mind.
“We’re not trying to coast through the rest of the season and only win the games were supposed to,” Pendergraph said. “We’re trying to win the whole back nine. That’s the only way I think we can win the conference championship.”
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