Arizona State is a virtual lock to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, but that won’t lessen the frustration from two tough losses that ended its hopes for a Pac-10 title.
On Thursday night, the 21st-ranked Sun Devils look to avoid losing their third straight when they host Stanford.
Jeff Pendergraph was expected to combine with James Harden, one of the Pac-10’s most talented returning players, as Arizona State (21-7, 10-6) sought its first conference title.
Back-to-back overtime losses last week at Washington and Washington State— in which the Sun Devils shot just 41.5 percent from the field—ended those hopes. Now, they’re focused on getting a high seed for the NCAA tournament, where they’ve won just one game since 1996.
“I think it’s just as urgent,” said Pendergraph, the only senior on the team. “We’re not trying to … just to get in there and be happy. We want to get a run in, and the better we play now, the higher seed we get.”
But Pendergraph must bounce back from his worst performance in a month. After averaging 16.4 points from Jan. 31-Feb. 26, he was held to eight in a 51-49 overtime loss to the Cougars on Saturday.
“I haven’t felt like this since high school,” said Pendergraph, the Sun Devils’ second-leading scorer with 13.9 points per game.
Harden, the Pac-10’s leading scorer with 20.8 points, also struggled, finishing with a team-high 13 while going just 2-of-11 from the field. He sent the game into overtime by hitting three free throws with 2.4 seconds left.
The loss dropped the Sun Devils into a tie with California for third place in the Pac-10.
“It was a very difficult weekend,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “I don’t know if you get over it or not, but you get ready for the next game.”
Pendergraph figures to play well Thursday, given his success against Stanford (16-11, 5-11). He scored a career-high 31 points and added 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in a 90-60 win over the Cardinal on Jan. 2. In three home games against Stanford, Pendergraph has averaged 15.3 points.
While Arizona State is eyeing NCAA tournament plans, Stanford will likely miss the cut for the first time since 2006 barring a deep run in the Pac-10 tournament.
After a 10-0 start, the Cardinal have won consecutive games only once. They snapped a four-game skid Saturday, beating Southern California 75-63.
Stanford trailed by four at the break, but went on a 21-6 run in the second half. Anthony Goods scored 20 points.
The Cardinal had been allowing opponents to average 73.0 points on 48.4 percent shooting during their losing streak. After shooting 56.5 percent in the first half, the Trojans were held to 44.8 percent in the second.
“Our kids really just showed some grit,” first-year Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “They dug in and made the plays they needed to make to get back in the game.”
The Cardinal have lost seven straight on the road and were blown out in their only road contest against a Top 25 opponent, losing 97-63 on Jan. 31 to then-No. 17 UCLA.
Arizona State has won two straight against Stanford after losing five in a row and 18 of the previous 20 meetings.