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GAME THREAD: Arizona State at No. 17 WSU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 21, 2008

Sun Devils (16-8, 6-6) at Cougars (20-5 overall, 8-5 Pac-10)

Beasley Coliseum (Pullman, Wash.), 6 p.m. PT

The Cougs face a desperate team tonight. While ASU’s overall record looks OK and that .500 conference mark doesn’t look terrible given that four other teams in the Pac-10 have virtually the same record, those six losses have come in the Sun Devils’ last eight games.Make no mistake about it — thanks to the Sun Devils’ middling conference record and poor road play (2-4 in just six true road games), Arizona State is squarely on the tournament bubble. Of particular dismay to ASU fans has to be Saturday’s head-scratching loss to Cal after knocking off No. 7 Stanford.

But losing streaks and inconsistent performances can happen sometimes when a team relies so heavily on young players — of the five starters, two are sophomores and two are freshman, including leading scorer James Harden (right).

Arizona State has leaned heavily on Harden, who was all over the floor in the first meeting against the Cougs, and it seems to have really taken its toll on the young man. How heavily have they leaned on him? According to, he “uses” 28.6 percent of ASU’s possessions when he’s in the game, which is 80 percent of the time. So, not only is he playing the most minutes on the team, more than one out of every four possessions ends with him taking some sort of shot which usually requires making some sort of move, all of which drains a player.

The result has been rough for ASU. After scoring 15 or more points in 18 of his first 20 games, he now has failed to score more than 11 points in three of the past five. His shots are down (usually a sign of a reluctance to work hard to get open), his turnovers are up and his fouls are up (also a sure sign of tired legs, especially in a zone defense). Will he want to work as hard as he’s going to need to against the WSU defense this time around, without a favorable crowd behind him to get that extra adrenaline shot? I suspect not, but we’ll see.

One big key tonight will be rebounding. Arizona State’s offense is heavily dependent on offensive rebounds and second-chance points — according to, the Devils have a fairly strong correlation between offensive rebounding percentage and offensive efficiency. If the Cougs rebound the way they have against the last three opponents — all wins, not coincidentally — they should be in very good shape defensively tonight.

But let me pose a couple of questions to you. Anybody notice how we dominated Oregon on the glass? Anybody notice that Aron Baynes played 34 minutes in that one? Yeah, not a coincidence, those two things. The problem, of course, is that there isn’t really any room on offense for a post-only, not-so-good-passing big man against a zone such as ASU’s — Baynes played only 20 minutes in the first contest, some of it because of foul trouble, some of it because of offensive ineffectiveness. How we rebound with if our best rebounder is playing reduced minutes again tonight will be a major key.

The guy to watch out for on that front, of course, is Jeff Pendergraph. He’s the main reason for ASU’s success on the boards — he’s 77th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage — but his inconsistencies have made him one of the bigger disappointments in the Pac-10, in my book. He’s a foul waiting to happen, and it was that foul trouble that kept him out of most of the game against the Cougs the first time around, when he played 30 minutes but was hardly effective. Pendergraph isn’t exactly a load, so look for Tony Bennett to put Robbie Cowgill on him plenty to try and combat his activity.

But while Harden and Pendergraph tend to get all the pub, don’t sleep on Ty Abbott. The freshman, who was recruited heavily by WSU (and UW) before electing to go to the hometown school, is a very good 3-point shooter. And if there’s anything that we know can bust the Cougs’ D, it’s 3s. Thankfully, the Sun Devils were unbelievably poor in that department last time. Bet your bottom dollar that Tony Bennett is making sure the Cougs know where he is on the floor at all times.

On offense, the key for the Cougs will be penetrating that zone. In the first matchup, WSU looked terrible, then very good, then terrible against it. All of it had to do with how effectively the Cougs got the ball to Kyle Weaver in the high post. Early on, they weren’t even trying; late, ASU did an outstanding job denying entry passes to him. The Cougs will want to get him the ball in that triple threat position as much as possible, and if the Sun Devils overplay the high entry as hard as they did in the second half of the last game, Bennett will have to get creative — some pass fakes and dribble drives into the gaps should do the trick.

Bottom line? This is a game ASU must have, but I see two teams going in opposite directions. I think the Cougs handle and frustrate a young, tiring team to a relatively comfortable win.


90 Responses to “GAME THREAD: Arizona State at No. 17 WSU”

  1. Matt said

    I think you are way off. I think the Devils are primed for a big win on the road. Last meeting the refs decided the game on a no-call last second play. This time Abbott is coming off his best game of the year, Harden is fully healty, and Kuk has emerged as the post opposite Pendergraph that we have been missing all year.

  2. Nuss said

    You could be right, given that I haven’t had much of a chance to watch them closely. But …

    In six road games, you have had one outstanding offensive performance (against Cal, the worst defensive team in the conference), one OK offensive performance (against depleted Arizona) and four horrific ones in which you did not exceed 89 (!) in offensive efficiency or 48 in effective field goal percentage. That’s bad, and to think that all of a sudden you’re going to put together a great offensive performance in Pullman against an improving defensive team that’s known is a little bit the stuff of wishes and dreams, I think.

  3. Jo-Jo said

    First of all, Matt, that wasn’t a no call. There was no foul on that play. Harden is not MJ, he shouldn’t get courtesy calls that would have been. He went to the basket and initiated contact himself (like he always does, it’s about time basketball cracks down on that kind of crap), and simply lost the ball. He choked. Deal with it.

    It is true that this game is all about Weaver. On both ends of the court, Weav’s play will decide the outcome. To piggy-back your thoughts Nuss, they need to use him as the high post zone buster. Look for him to kick out to Low, Rochestie and hopefully Harmeling for some 3’s. On defense I think you lock down Harden with the Pac-10’s best one-on-one defender. If you was tired last week, that defense should finish him for the year.

  4. Jo-Jo said

    Low off early. Excellent.

  5. Jo-Jo said

    First five minutes: Cougar briliance. Next four minutes: absolute crap.

    The Cougs were dominating the boards in the first five minutes, then got lazy.

  6. Nuss said

    I love the way this game is going so far. The turnovers aren’t good, but that’s where ASU has gotten the bulk of its offense so far. That’s correctable. The offense looks efficient against the zone, and best of all, the refs are letting some contact go. That’s HUGE for the Cougs, who need to keep Baynes out of foul trouble. You see the way he’s gobbling up those boards? Keep up the good work.

    I honestly think this game could not have started much better. ASU looks like an inferior team so far. Let’s see if it continues.

  7. Jo-Jo said

    I forgot to mention earlier, with Baynes slowed because of the zone, look for Cowgill to have an impact. So far: 3 rebs, 5 points.

    They’ve yet to break the zone with Weaver on the free thow line. Maybe they break that out later.

  8. Longball said

    INteresting, we finally have subs at the half way mark.

  9. Jo-Jo said

    Euro-flop! I love it.

  10. Longball said

    Against a defenst that rewards good passing and movement without the ball, Nic could be a nice weapon tonight.

  11. Jo-Jo said

    Niko could be effective against this zone.

  12. Longball said

    Free throws, guys. Free throws.

  13. Jo-Jo said

    Longball, your in my dome.

  14. Longball said

    Ha, Jo Jo i beat you to the submit button by .1 second!

  15. Jo-Jo said

    Assist Niko, good call Longball.

  16. Longball said

    Ptowncoug and i were having a beer last night and talkin hoops and we both agreed that Nic’s ball handling can be a nightmare, but without the ball, he is masterful. Is that a european emphasis?

  17. Jo-Jo said

    Actually it’s a myth. It only looks like a nightmare. Those guys look like an absolute train reck running around with the ball, but you’ll notice that they always get to the basket with the ball in their hands. And it is also so matter of fact looking but they are very fundamental passers as well.

  18. Longball said

    Weaver is awfully quiet.

  19. Jo-Jo said

    Low is doing his best Ryan Appleby impersonation tonight. Is that three or four turnovers?

  20. Nuss said

    That last Weaver foul was chump given all the contact they’ve let go.

  21. Jo-Jo said

    Weaver was quiet, but so was Harden when Weaver was in the game. Weaver to the bench, Harden hits a three and just got a dunk.

  22. Longball said

    Wow, we are just having flurries of turnovers tonight. This is a good ASU defense though. We need a spark to finish the half.

  23. Nuss said

    Amazing how our offense kills them when we put someone in the high post but can’t really do anything else otherwise. It was the same problem last game. I don’t understand why we go away from it. Maybe I don’t know anything, but it seems rather obvious to me — and simple.

    By the way, how about Baynes? Amazing what that guy can do when refs let him play a little bit. But I think he’s been smarter lately, too.

  24. Nuss said

    ASU is either going to shoot themselves into or out of this game. Early they were shooting out of it. Now they’re shooting into it. Interesting strategy — this is a team that gets to the free throw line as much as anyone else in the conference. They’re not even really trying to get to the cup.

  25. Jo-Jo said

    How many of those free throws per game are through Harden and Pendergraph? Pendergraph isn’t seeing the ball because Baynes shut him down without the ball and Harden only had a couple of chances while Weaver was on the bench.

  26. Nuss said

    Most of them. And send me your bio on e-mail and I’ll get it up on the about page.

    Still love the zone after watching the Cougs kill it? 😉

  27. Jo-Jo said

    I really feel like we should be using our bench more. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be giving more time to Koprivica and Forrest. Oh yeah, where the hell has Harmeling been for the past few weeks? He has had hardly any impact in our wins lately. You’d think that he would have some success against a team like this.

  28. Jo-Jo said

    Yes I do, because ASU doesn’t run it very well, and they run a stupid zone configuration.

  29. Jo-Jo said

    Why is Duane Casey doing studio work for FSN. That dude should be on bench somewhere.

  30. Nuss said


  31. Nuss said

    I think teams are really keying in on Harm right now, determined not to let him get off because he really only does one thing well. But I think what you see is that it opens stuff up for other guys. I know we’d like more from him, but even as he’s been fairly quiet, we’ve won three in a row.

  32. Nuss said

    OK, Casey definitely should be on a bench somewhere. He can’t produce Budinger.

    Seriously, why do television networks think they HAVE TO get a coach or former player to be the analyst? Even if they have no idea how to talk? I could do a better job. Well, you know, if I learned to stop saying “you know” every 10 seconds.

  33. Jo-Jo said

    Good point. I guess I’m just thinking of next season. He needs to be huge and when he completely vanishes for weeks at a time, it worries me.

  34. Jo-Jo said

    You know, Jeff, it’s guys like Casey, you know, who keep guys like you and me, you know, out of a broadcasting job. You know?

  35. Jo-Jo said

    Okay, things are pretty much right where the Cougs want them. They had two spells where they looked liked they fell asleep. If they keep concentration and keep Baynes and Weaver on the floor, it will equate to an easy win.

  36. Jo-Jo said

    We miss more lay ups than any team in the country. I want more Low.

  37. Nuss said

    I want more Baynes. You see how easily we gave up that rebound? Get him back on the floor, please.

  38. Nuss said

    Especially after watching Harm get backdoored. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.

  39. Jo-Jo said

    Maybe I don’t want more Low.

    Put Weaver in the bleeping high post. Dang!

  40. Jo-Jo said

    Yeah, you’d have to be much better looking than that guy to backdoor me.

  41. Longball said

    We need to put this team away! They are hungry with their backs to the wall and hate us for our narrow wins in their house lately. we cannot let them hang around on OUR floor!

    ok, deep breath, longball. probably too early to panic. Im getting a beer, that will help. Anyone else want one while im up?

  42. Jo-Jo said

    HAAAAAARRM! Booyeah.

  43. Jo-Jo said

    Longball, Silver Bullet!

  44. Longball said

    Its in the mail, Jo Jo.

  45. Jo-Jo said

    Wow, I know it goes against everything the Cougs are about, but early offense beats the zone. Nice work Weaver.

  46. Longball said

    COUGAR COUNTRY! extra sauce, please.

  47. Jo-Jo said

    Man, the Cougs need to shoot the 3 at a higher percentage. That is just anoying.

    And, when did they get convince that driving straight to the basket and trying to finish is a good idea against the zone. Drive and kick boys.

  48. Jo-Jo said

    I miss the fries.

  49. Longball said

    I mis the slab of ham on the Special.

  50. Jo-Jo said

    Weaver must be a great defender, becuase in the two games that I’ve seen Harden, I have not been impressed at all. I can’t figure out why he comes up with the numbers he does. Weaver makes him look so predictable.

    That’s goal tending.

  51. Longball said


  52. Longball said


  53. Jo-Jo said

    Cowgill has been huge. Actually, he has been throughout this winning streak.

  54. Longball said

    You were right Nuss, their strategy is simpy to bomb away from 3.

  55. Jo-Jo said

    This is dumb. The Cougs are such a better team than ASU, it shows in their play, but the score board is killing me. Why can’t they just kill teams? I would like that so much more than watching teams hang around and feel like they’ve played the Cougs well. Good night if we could hit a 3 this game wouldn’t even be close.

  56. Jo-Jo said

    Harden doesn’t fit in the draft. If he enters it will be the end of his career.

  57. Nuss said

    We have got to hit some of those wide open shots. I’m a little tired of hearing these guys talk about how ASU is hanging in there. This game would be double digits if the Cougs could hit some wide open shots.

  58. Nuss said

    Uh, big fella.

  59. Jo-Jo said

    You kidding me?

  60. Longball said

    Did that really just happen?

  61. Jo-Jo said


  62. Jo-Jo said

    Did you see that? He never took his eyes of his own dribble. Classic humor.

  63. Longball said

    I was sure he was going to pull a Brian Paine and travel then miss the dunk, or better yet a Ken Mathia and miss the dunk while breaking the backboard.

  64. Jo-Jo said

    Hey Nuss, shy haven’t we seen more McMillan?

  65. Jo-Jo said

    Uh, why.

  66. Nuss said

    He can’t shoot. They’ve decided they’re shooting into or out of this game. And 4 on Pendergraph is huge. That will be the difference in the game.

  67. Longball said

    4 fouls on P-graph, lets go right at him.

  68. Jo-Jo said

    That was not a blocking foul. Weaver needs to make a pass there.

  69. Jo-Jo said

    Hit a flippin’ jumper!

  70. Jo-Jo said

    Didn’t that hit the rim before Cowgill got the “offensive rebound?”

  71. Nuss said

    Pac-10 officiating. Worst in the conference. They swallow their whistles for the first 20, call everything in the final 20. Oh, and they just assume that because a guy has his back to the basket, he can’t get a shot off. Idiots.

  72. Nuss said

    I meant worst in the country. Highly irritated.

  73. Longball said

    Somebody needs to hit their shots for us and we put this team away. Who wants to be to be hero? Harm is way overdue to stick a couple daggers in somebody.

  74. Jo-Jo said

    This is starting to get on my nerves.

  75. Nuss said

    Why can no announcer ever pronounce Harmeling?

  76. Longball said

    can i call it, or what?

  77. Jo-Jo said

    Thank you Longball.

  78. Jo-Jo said

    Oh, okay, so let’s take him out of the game now.

  79. Nuss said

    That is a block. Get out of my lane. Baynes was straight up — body contact was Abbott’s doing.

  80. Longball said

    wow, that was a straight up stuff. I love it when an announcer is explaining their take on a call while the re-play is rolling and shows they are wrong.

  81. Jo-Jo said

    That, was not a foul. Again, I’m getting tired of offensive players initiating contact, out of control and getting rewarded for it. Baynes holds his ground, goes straight up, reaches for a block and gets it. But, because the offensive players run into the defender, it’s a foul. Boo.

  82. Longball said

    Damn, get that rebound and we are almost home free.

  83. Longball said

    make free throws.

  84. Longball said

    this will be the longest 55 seconds of our lives.

  85. Longball said

    Oh man, these old highlights make me misty. I totally remember that floor, those uniforms. classic.

  86. Longball said

    and… exhale.

  87. Nuss said

    I’m as happy after this win as I’ve been after any win this year, and I’ll explain why in my postgame wrap tomorrow.

  88. Jo-Jo said

    This was more painfull than it needed to be. Poor perimeter shooting was the whole story. If the Cougs hit their normal percentage from three then this game is a blow out.

  89. Ptowncoug said

    88 comments is that a record? Great game. You can watch a train wreck of a game UW v AZ, ouch!!

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