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Down to the wire,
Devils lose by three

 by Taylor Price
 published on Monday, February 26, 2007

CONTACT: ASU junior guard Antwi Atuahene looks to pass the ball to a teammate around UA forward Marcus Williams during the first half of Sunday nightís 61-58 loss at Wells Fargo Arena/issues/news/699993
Eric Binns / THE STATE PRESS
CONTACT: ASU junior guard Antwi Atuahene looks to pass the ball to a teammate around UA forward Marcus Williams during the first half of Sunday nightís 61-58 loss at Wells Fargo Arena
 

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So close, and yet the ASU men's basketball team has come so far.

The Sun Devils dropped their 20th game of the season with a 61-58 loss to UA at Wells Fargo Arena Sunday, but ASU had reason to be optimistic despite the result.

"We just feel fortunate to get out of here with a win," UA coach Lute Olson said.

Over 13,000 fans were treated to the best men's basketball game played on Ned Wulk Court this season, during which the Sun Devils (7-20, 1-15 Pac-10) matched shot for shot with the Wildcats (18-9, 9-7 Pac-10) down the stretch.

UA freshman Chase Budinger led all scorers with 23 points, and sophomore Marcus Williams chipped in 19.

"Thank goodness for Chase Budinger and Marcus [Williams], in terms of making big shots," Olson said.

While the Sun Devils struggled to contain Budinger and Williams, ASU senior forward Serge Angounou answered time and time again from the three-point line.

Angounou connected on four-of-eight shots from behind the arc for 14 points, and freshman guard Christian Polk led ASU with 18.

The turning point in the game took place on a breakaway lay-up for UA's Marcus Williams late in the second half.

After stealing the ball, Williams raced for a dunk but was knocked to the ground hard by ASU sophomore forward Jeff Pendergraph.

"It was on accident," Pendergraph said. "I wasn't trying to hurt him or anything."

Instead, it hurt the Sun Devils chance of winning the game.

Williams connected on two free throws and UA held possession resulting from the flagrant foul call. The Wildcats went ahead 58-49 after Budinger made two more free throws.

For the rest of the game, ASU was playing catch up as freshmen Derek Glasser and Christian Polk connected on consecutive threes to bring the deficit to 55-58.

With the ball in their possession and half a minute left, ASU elected to go for a quick bucket but missed when Pendergraph's baseline shot sailed over the rim.

Wildcat junior forward Bret Brielmaeiier made one free throw, putting ASU down four with less than a minute left.

Olson elected to take a timeout to give him team final defensive instructions.

"We told them to not even challenge a three point shot," Olson said.

UA apparently didn't get the message, as they fouled Derek Glasser during his three point attempt.

While Glasser almost made the three, he was at the line down four points, with three attempts.

After calmly knocking down the first two, ASU coach Herb Sendek called a timeout.

Sendek instructed Glasser to do something he never has done before - to miss the shot.

"We don't usually practice missing shots," Sendek said. "We spend all our time practicing to make them."

Glasser was supposed to throw it off the backboard and have the ball hit the rim, giving the Sun Devil big men a chance at a tip-in.

Instead, he made the shot on accident.

And once UA had possession, up a single point with 2.7 seconds left, Budinger made two more free throws to ice the game.

ASU was unable to make a half court shot to tie the game.

"His players have shown tremendous character," coach Olson said of Sendek's team. "Every game they play really hard - that's not easy to do."

Despite its 24th loss in the last 25 meetings, ASU matched up well with its cross-state rivals, providing a strong college basketball environment.

"It was a great atmosphere for college basketball tonight," said senior UA point guard Mustafa Shakur.

His coach, who has seen many games in the arena, was also impressed with the emerging basketball culture in Tempe.

"There's a home court now and I thought the crowd was great," Olson said. "I felt a different atmosphere. Sometimes I felt half the crowd was there to get on my back and the other was there to support ASU.

"The students are really behind them - it was impressive."

Although the outcome wasn't to his liking, Sendek was pleased again with his teams' effort.

"It is what it is," he said. "You can attach any label to it, but our guys battled like crazy against a heck of a basketball team.

"We feel great about our effort, there was a stretch where we didn't make the plays to come out on top."

The Sun Devils led 31-30 at halftime due to key defensive pressure from their match-up zone.

"They definitely played the zone really well," Shakur said.

ASU forced eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, which was a good thing considering UA made their first six shots to start the game.

"I think we got kind of cocky and lazy," Chase Budinger said. "They were playing zone and it was pretty tough to try and get in there.

"I just kept trying to move without the ball and find the open spaces."

The Sun Devils have just two more chances to show the conference their improvement, which will start with a trip to the Bay Area for their final two regular season games. This will be ASU's final road trip before a trip to Los Angeles for the Pac-10 tournament.

Reach the reporter at: edward.price@asu.edu.



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