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GAME THREAD: No. 6 WSU at No. 24 Arizona State

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 26, 2008

Cougars (16-2 overall, 4-2 Pac-10) at Sun Devils (14-4, 4-2)
Wells Fargo Arena (Tempe, Ariz.), 4 p.m. PT
TV: FSN

The over/under on hearing ASU referred to as “this year’s Washington State” from the amateurish FSN announcers is probably about 30 seconds. And the comparisons seem viable to the naked eye, what with the Devils playing a similar tempo to the Cougs (60.5 possessions per game for ASU vs. 59.8 for WSU), employing a hard-nosed halfcourt defense and having a similar “out-of-nowhere” season similar to what the Cougs experienced last year.

But really, that’s where the comparisons ought to end. ASU is led by an explosive freshman, James Harden. He leads the Devils in minutes, points and steals, and is second in rebounding and assists. Most remarkable, I think, is that he’s shooting 54 percent from the field — as a 6-foot-5 guard. Pretty incredible. Limiting him doesn’t necessarily equal success for opponents — as Xavier found out — but it sure helps. He supposedly has a groin issue right now, but if you look at that picture, that sure doesn’t look like a guy that’s lost any explosion.

One thing Harden is extremely skilled at (try not to cringe) is getting to the free throw line. In fact, thanks to Harden and big man Jeff Pendergraph, the Devils are 14th in the country in free throw rate. This will likely be the difference in the game.

As we all know, it pretty much begins and ends with defense with the Cougs, and there are two things that bear a strong correlation to the Cougs’ success in defensive efficiency: Effective field goal percentage (no surprise, given their vulnerability to the 3-point shot) and free throw rate. Simply, the more often their opponent goes to the line, the worse their defense. Don’t believe me? The Cougs’ two worst defensive performances were those in which they gave up the highest free throw rate (at UCLA and at Arizona), and the next two worst free throw rates given up were two games that were a lot closer than they should have been (Boise State and Air Force).

The other key tonight? Keeping ASU off the glass. The Sun Devils’ offense absolutely thrives off offensive rebounds. Three of their four worst offensive rebounding games resulted in three of their four losses. The bad news is that the Cougs are not a particularly good rebounding team. We hammered Robbie Cowgill how poorly he’s played as of late; the Cougars absolute must have a performance from him today on the order of what he did against Gonzaga, when he was active and all over the defensive glass.

If the Cougs can keep ASU away from the free throw line — which also will mean no foul trouble for Baynes — and grab the lion’s share of defensive rebounds, they’ll win.

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10 Responses to “GAME THREAD: No. 6 WSU at No. 24 Arizona State”

  1. Longball said

    I’m sick of these slow starts.

  2. Longball said

    I think Cowgill needs a vacation. He is a shell of the player he used to be.

  3. Longball said

    Does the big slam on the fast break awaken Cowgill from his coma?

  4. Longball said

    Weaver has saved us about 8 points disrupting their transition baskets after our turnovers.

  5. Longball said

    I feel like a crazy person, just talkin to myself here.

  6. Longball said

    With Baynes sitting with 4 fouls, its time for more COWGILL! Come to life, Robbie!

  7. Longball said

    For a veteran team we are actually really bad at putting teams away. AS much as we are good at winning close games, its because we almost always let teams back in it at the end. letting ASU go on a 7-0 run is inexcusible.

  8. Longball said

    Wow, i mean glad to get the win and all, but we just cant flirt with defeat EVERY game like this and expect to keep eeking these out. At some point this team needs to learn how to take a late lead and put their opponent away. That is frankly our 2nd very lucky win at ASU in the last 2 tries.

  9. Ptowncoug said

    You should give me a buzz. We never get calls (or no call) like that. See UO game last year. I think have Roch drive the right side several times was a bad decision. We need something better. As I watch pac-10 games today, everybody has that 6-6 to 6-8 guy that can jump out of the building and slash and take the ball to the middle and create something. As much as I love Weaver he has slow feet and simply isn’t that guy. I would like to see Low, although 6-1, try it more, but he just doesn’t seem interested.
    I’m calling Tony on Tuesday. It appears that teams are extending their defenses against us with ball pressure and constant hand checking with the belief that we won’t attack and we are simply not. After watching almost every pac-10 team extend their ball pressure so far out, this just can’t be a coincidence.

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