It’s been more than 20 years since Arizona State last opened a season with five straight victories.
The No. 14 Sun Devils look to accomplish that feat when they host Baylor on Friday night in the semifinals of the 76 Classic in Anaheim.
Coming off its fourth 20-win season in 27 years, Arizona State is one win away from starting 5-0 for the first time since 1985-86, after routing Charlotte 84-56 in Thursday’s first round.
Jeff Pendergraph had 23 points with 10 rebounds and star sophomore James Harden added 15 points as the Sun Devils shot a tournament-record 61 percent (25-for-41) from the field. The pair of All-Pac-10 performers from a season ago led four players in double figures for Arizona State, which is shooting 52.9 percent through four games.
“It was a collective effort,” said Harden, who also went 11-for-11 from the free-throw line. “Once we have that every single game, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The Sun Devils hope that’s again the case against Baylor (5-0), which beat Providence 72-56 in Thursday’s other first-round contest. The winner of this game will face either No. 19 Wake Forest or UTEP in Sunday’s championship.
With the 6-foot-4 Harden averaging 22.5 points and shooting 58.7 percent (27-for-46) from the field, and the team’s defense allowing an average of 53.0 points through four games, Arizona State is playing well enough early to ponder the possibility of its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002-03.
On Thursday, the Sun Devils held Charlotte to 34.4 percent shooting - including 5-for-26 from 3-point range - while forcing 21 turnovers in a game they never trailed.
“They’re very aggressive on the ball, play the passing lanes very well, pinch any drives and communicate extremely well,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said of the Sun Devils.
Pendergraph posted his first double-double of the season Thursday, while matching his combined point total from the previous three games.
Even including a Nov. 18 game against San Diego State in which Arizona State needed a big second half to record a seven-point victory, an experienced Baylor team could present the Sun Devils with their biggest challenge of the young season.
Returning its top five scorers from the school’s first NCAA tournament team in 20 seasons, Baylor has won its first five contests for the second straight year.
Kevin Rogers had 16 points with seven rebounds Thursday, while LaceDarius Dunn added 12 points off the bench for the Bears, who overcame 23 turnovers by shooting 49.0 percent from the field and outrebounding the Friars 47-33.
Dunn, a sophomore guard, is averaging 16.2 points to lead five players scoring in double figures for Baylor, which is shooting 53.8 percent while averaging 86.2 points per game on the season.
Arizona State has won two of three meetings all-time against Baylor, although the teams have not met since an 89-73 Sun Devils win on Nov. 26, 1988 - two days more than 20 years ago.
Baylor, which received the most votes of any team not in the most recent AP Poll, went 2-5 against ranked opponents last season.