Even when he’s sick, Arizona State’s James Harden is proving to be too much for opponents. His team’s defense, meanwhile, is very healthy.
Harden and the No. 15 Sun Devils look to open the season with three straight wins for the first time in three years when they host Pepperdine on Sunday.
After averaging 17.8 points as a freshman, Harden turned down the NBA draft for another season at Arizona State (2-0). The Sun Devils should be happy he stayed. He’s averaged 21.0 points in their first two games, including 18 while shooting 7-for-11 from the floor in Tuesday’s 59-52 victory over San Diego State.
Playing through a virus, Harden had only eight points while committing three turnovers in the first half Tuesday, but came up big when his team needed him. The Sun Devils trailed for most of the game, but the guard hit a 3-pointer with 4:29 remaining to make it 47-44 and give them the lead for good. Harden also made 3 of 4 free-throw attempts in the final 44 seconds to put the game away.
“We played bad the whole game, but in that five minutes we still had a chance to win, so we took the chance that we had,” Harden said.
“We shouldn’t have put ourselves in the situation in the first place but we’ll be better next game.”
The Sun Devils’ defense had another stellar game, holding the Aztecs to 35.3 percent shooting after an 80-64 victory over Mississippi Valley State in their Nov. 14 season opener.
“This was anything but a fluid basketball game,” Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. “Our team played ugly but found a way to win. It was a real gut check. We have a lot of room for improvement; we have to get so much better.”
Arizona State faces a Pepperdine team that has lost three straight since opening the season with a 91-82 win over Division II Cal State-Monterey.
The Waves (1-3) fell 90-66 to New Mexico State on Friday in their first road game of the season. Taylor Darby had 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Mike Hornbuckle added 11 points and six rebounds off the bench, but Pepperdine turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 53 second-half points.
The Waves also lost senior guard Ryan Holmes, who had to be helped off the court after falling to the floor awkwardly when his layup was blocked. It isn’t known whether Homes, one of only four upperclassmen on Pepperdine’s roster, will be available Sunday.
Holmes averaged 11.7 points and 3.0 assists through the first three games.
Pepperdine has lost 11 straight games against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 20 Wisconsin 75-61 in 2004.
This is the 17th meeting between these two schools, but the first in 41 years. The Waves hold a 10-6 edge all-time, but Arizona State has won the last four matchups.