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March 5, 2010You may have seen Rihards Kuksiks on television playing with Arizona State in its road trip to the Bay Area last week.
But according to Kuksiks, that wasn't him, or at least not the version he'd like to be.
"I'm just coming back now," Kuksiks said. "I was somewhere else for a couple games."
Kuksiks was a combined 1-of-12 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range last week, but rebounded in a big way with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the Sun Devils' 59-54 win over USC Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU improved to 21-9 overall and 11-6 in the Pac-10 with the win and kept alive its hopes of being an at-large consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
The win doesn't leave the Sun Devils feeling secure with their Tournament prospects despite clinching no worse than third seed in the Pac-10 Tournament next week at Staples Center in Los Angeles. They still feel as though they need to beat UCLA Saturday, and perhaps even win a game or two next week to have a strong chance.
"Not yet, no," Derek Glasser said, when asked if he'd be comfortable with ASU's resume if it could beat UCLA. "We still have some work to do but we're getting there. All we can do is keep winning."
This is a team that has done a remarkable job staying focused on the present task at hand according to its coach, who isn't surprised by the one-game-at-a-time mentality.
"This group is amazingly grounded," Herb Sendek said. "They do a tremendous job of keeping their poise. They are not easily rattled and at the same time they don't get carried away with themselves when things go well."
Thursday's game required every bit of that poise.
In a game largely devoid of runs, the Sun Devils held a slim lead through the later stages of the second half but couldn't pull away. The Trojans (16-13; 8-9) were able to score a key basket seemingly every time it looked as though the Sun Devils would stretch the lead beyond two possessions.
Kuksiks hit a 3-pointer near the mid-way point of the half to give ASU a 41-39 lead and Glasser hit a 3-pointer of his own to stretch the lead to 44-39.
The margin seesawed between one and six points the rest of the way, with Glasser making two free throws to give ASU a 55-51 lead before USC's Leonard Washington was called for offensive goaltending on a ball that appeared likely to drop in the basket.
When Washington hit a 3-point shot after Glasser missed the front end of a 1-and-1, it brought USC to within one point again, at 55-54, but Kuksiks hit two key free throws to make it 57-54 and senior Eric Boateng blocked a runner by Dwight Lewis with six seconds left.
The block went into the hands of Glasser -- a player who became the first in ASU history to score 1,000 points and have 500 assists with 11 points Thursday -- who was fouled and hit both free throws with 4.4 seconds left to reach the game's final score, 59-54.
"Rik played a great game for us tonight," Sendek said. "I think it really started with him making a good effort to move without the ball and his teammates did a terrific job of screening for him and hitting him when he was open. What can you say, six [3-poniters] and then he made those two clutch free throws.
"Rik is a guy who really sets high expectations for himself. He's demanding on himself and he's a scorer, he likes to shoot and score. When that's going for him it's easier for everything else to fall in place. We remind him he can impact winning in a lot of ways. But it's good to have guys that can shoot and have a scoring mentality on your team and when he brings that to your squad it makes a big difference for us."