January 9, 2008

Arizona preview

When [tm]Arizona State[/tm] junior Jeff Pendergraph said on Tuesday that tonight's game against [tm]Arizona[/tm] would probably be one of the best between the two programs in a long time, a reporter provided him with the perfect opportunity to take a shot at the Wildcats.

"What makes you feel that way about this matchup? Just your talent base has risen up and theirs isn't quite what it once was," the reported asked.

Pendergraph didn't take the bait.

"Ours has gone up," Pendergraph said in regards to the ASU talent level. "Regardless of who is one UA, those guys are tough and they're always tougher when they come play us. Regardless of [UA's talent level], that has nothing to do with it. Our talent has gone up and I think our heart level has gone up too. We're tougher than we were in the past. We're really excited about this team."

Even though Pendergraph didn't want to comment on it, the UA's talent level is down when compared with the average team it's put on the floor over the last decade or longer.

In the system offered by interim coach Kevin O'Neill, the 10-4 (1-1) Wildcats have four or five high level Pac-10 players, and not much behind them. Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill are certifiable stars, but Bayless is expected to be less than full strength, if he even plays at all tonight due to a knee sprain.

With Hill and Budinger and a chief support cast of Nic Wise and Jawaan McClellan, the Wildcats are arguably no more talented a squad than ASU, with stars James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, and a deeper supporting cast.

"This is probably one of the better (ASU) teams we can compete with them with," said Pendergraph, who has lost every game he's played against UA. "It doesn't seem like it's going to be a landslide victory. I think it's going to be a rally good game and probably one of the best games between ASU and U of A in a long time."

Until it went off-line due to the Bayless injury, the point spread indicated as much, with the Sun Devils a one-point favorite at most outposts. The teams' styles of plays lend itself to a close game.

"They're obviously going to be playing a different style of defense," sophomore point guard Derek Glasser said. "[Coaches] have been talking to us a lot about, [O'Neill's] an old school, grimy coach who wants his guys to get up in you, play hard defense and they want to grind the game out. We're preparing for that style of game.

"Being 12-2 helps a lot," Glasser said. "Last year we had a losing record going into the game. We feel we have enough offensive weapons to play with people but we know to beat Arizona you've got to play the best you can play. We've got to bring our 'A game' and play for 40 minutes to even have a chance."

With Bayless probably playing at less than full strength (if he plays at all), the Sun Devils will likely key on Budinger, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds against the team last year in a blowout loss in Tucson, and 23 points in a close loss in Tempe.

He's going to be a big part of the game just because he's so athletic and we've got to stop him on the boards," Glasser said of Budinger.

Budinger presents as the biggest concern (more than Hill) because ASU is undersized and also because ASU has shown a tendency to give up offensive rebounds (16 versus Oregon State) and second chance scoring opportunities. If Hill has a big game but UA's perimeter scoring and second-chance points are limited, ASU has a great chance of winning.

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