Arizona State might be on the undercard for Sunday’s Desert Classic at U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix, but the play of James Harden is worthy of a main event.
The Sun Devils’ sophomore guard is quietly having one of the best seasons in the country and will look to continue his strong play for 20th-ranked Arizona State (7-1) against IUPUI (5-3).
Harden is not only one of the nation’s top scorers at 25.5 points per game, but he is also among the NCAA leaders in field goal percentage, hitting 57.8 percent of his shots.
He has also knocked down 50.0 percent of his 3-pointers (18-for-36) and leads the team with 7.3 rebounds per game.
“So many of the good things that happen to us are a function of James,” Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. “Whether he scores or sets the table for one of his teammates, he’s really special.”
In a 64-44 win last Sunday over Nebraska, Harden was held without a field goal for the first 19 minutes, but finished with a team-leading 20 points and added nine rebounds and six assists. It was his fourth consecutive game with 20 or more points, and he has scored at least 15 in every game.
Stalwart senior forward Jeff Pendergraph is shooting a team-leading and career-best 66.7 percent from the field and scoring 12.0 points per game. Pendergraph, who is set to play in his 100th game, has averaged in double figures every season and led the team in scoring as a sophomore (12.1).
While Harden and Pendergraph lead a group of four players scoring in double figures, Arizona State has also relied on a strong defense in forging one of its best starts in school history.
The Sun Devils have held opponents to 36.4 percent shooting from the field and 57.6 points per game. They limited Nebraska to a 28.9-percent shooting performance and held the Cornhuskers to more than 22 points below their scoring average.
With a win over IUPUI, Arizona State, whose game precedes a matchup between Arizona and No. 4 Gonzaga, will have its fourth 8-1 start in the last 34 seasons. The Sun Devils were 11-1 to begin the 2004-05 season and had their best-ever start at 15-1 in 1974-75.
However, they have yet to play a ranked team. Arizona State’s only loss came against Baylor, who was unranked on Nov. 28 but has since moved to No. 22.
IUPUI had a four-game winning streak snapped Dec. 6 in a 58-48 home loss to Western Illinois, the team’s Summit League opener.
The Jaguars shot a season-worst 36.4 percent from the field and failed to reach 50 points for the first time since Dec. 22, 2005, against Vanderbilt.
Last season, IUPUI had a program-best 26-7 record under former Sendek assistant Ron Hunter. However, the Jaguars returned only two starters to this year’s team with George Hill leaving early for the NBA draft, where he was a first-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs.
Two newcomers lead IUPUI offensively. Freshman forward Alex Young averages 14.1 points per game, and junior college transfer Robert Glenn has scored 11.8 and averaged a team-best 2.1 blocked shots.
IUPUI, 0-6 all-time against ranked opponents, has never faced Arizona State. The Jaguars have played only one Pac-10 team in school history, falling 70-41 to Arizona in 1999.