Arizona State started three guards in each of its two games against Stanford last season, but they didn’t combine to score more than 22 points in either contest. James Harden has topped that mark in each of his last three games.
With Harden leading the way, the 22nd-ranked Sun Devils look to end a four-game losing streak against the Cardinal and win 11 straight overall for the first time in 27 years when the teams meet Saturday night.
Arizona State (14-2, 4-0) is averaging just 61.5 points in its last four games against Stanford (14-3, 3-2), and its three-guard starting lineup gave forward Jeff Pendergraph little help last season.
Derek Glasser, Christian Polk and Antwi Atuahene managed just 20 points in a 71-60 loss to the Cardinal on Dec. 28, 2006, and Glasser, Polk and Jerren Shipp combined for 22 in a 63-53 defeat to Stanford on March 1.
Pendergraph was Arizona State’s only consistent scoring threat in those games, averaging 16.0 points. That was the case for most of 2006-07, when the Sun Devils went 8-22, but Harden and Ty Abbott - two outstanding freshman - have helped Pendergraph put Arizona State in position to win 11 in a row for the first time since Jan. 5-Feb. 12, 1981.
That 1980-81 team featured Byron Scott, Fat Lever and Alton Lister, all of whom went on to play in the NBA. Before long, Harden may be joining the list of Arizona State players to play in the pros.
Harden scored his team’s first five points of the second overtime and finished with 27 on Thursday night, making the Sun Devils’ return to the rankings for the first time in nearly 13 years a success with a 99-90 win over California.
The 6-foot-5 guard leads Arizona State with 24.3 points per game in conference play - scoring 24 or more in each of his last three games - and is the team’s top scorer overall at 18.8 a contest. Harden, 18, is the Pac-10’s youngest player, but he has the Sun Devils ranked for the first time since they ended the 1994-95 season 16th.
Abbott, 19, has complemented Harden nicely.
Abbott made two 3-pointers in the second overtime Thursday, a key shot from beyond the arc late in the first OT and yet another that tied the game with 8.1 seconds left in regulation. The 6-4 guard finished with a career-high 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
It marked just the third time in Arizona State history two freshmen scored 20 points or more. Abbott is third on the team with 11.2 points per game.
“They are playing with a lot of confidence,” Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. “Our older guys have helped them a lot.”
Pendergraph, a junior, is one of those older players. He had 26 points, eight boards and four blocks against Cal. He recorded 15 points and seven rebounds against Stanford in March, but was outdone by Stanford forward Fred Washington, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
On Thursday night, Washington made two foul shots with 5 seconds remaining to secure the Cardinal’s 56-52 victory over Arizona. Washington made up for an 0-for-6 performance at the line that cost Stanford its previous game, a 71-66 loss to Oregon that dropped the Cardinal out of the Top 25.
The two free throws against the Wildcats were the only points Washington had in the game. Brook Lopez was the only Stanford player to reach double figures in scoring, finishing with 19 points and five blocks, but the Cardinal still managed to improve to 10-1 at home.
Stanford is shooting 39.6 percent from the field in its last six games, winning four.
“The exciting thing to me is that we have so far to go to become a much better team than we’re playing right now,” Cardinal coach Trent Johnson said. “This winning ugly is getting old, but it’s winning.”
Stanford leads the series with Arizona State 36-26.