Arizona St. readies for Washington with Harden hurting
If Harden is out, the Sun Devils (No. 24 AP) would have to replace more than his team-leading 18.6 points per game. Coach Herb Sendek shook his head when asked what else ASU would miss with its versatile freshman guard on the bench.
"That's a complicated question," Sendek said Tuesday at his weekly campus news conference. "If I broke that down, we would all miss lunch, and I wouldn't dare keep some of you away from lunch. Suffice it to say it most certainly causes us to reinvent ourselves to some measure because he's obviously a very integral part of what we do."
The Sun Devils probably won't know if Harden will play until shortly before game time on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
In a strong year for freshmen in the Pac-10, the 6-foot-5 Harden has had perhaps the greatest impact of any rookie. He may be the main reason the Sun Devils (14-3, 4-1 Pac-10) are in a three-way tie for first place after three weeks. A year ago, Arizona State went 2-16 and finished last in the Pac-10.
Along with leading the Sun Devils in scoring, Harden has the most steals (29) and minutes per game (32.9). He's shooting 55.4 percent from the field, 76.3 percent from the free-throw line and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Not bad for the Pac-10's youngest player. Harden turned 18 on Aug. 26.
"He brings a lot of length to the defense, being 6-5, and I think he's got almost a 7-foot wingspan," said point guard Derek Glasser, who has 25 assists and only two turnovers in five Pac-10 games. "It's hard to replace an athlete like that on the boards. His aggressiveness in attacking the rim and getting guys open, it's going to be hard to replace if he doesn't play.
"Obviously, we'd love for him to be there, but if he's not, we've got to go in there thinking that we can still win and be prepared for anything," Glasser said.
If Harden has to sit out, the timing couldn't be worse for the Sun Devils, who last week broke into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1995. Arizona State is 4-1 in the Pac-10 for the second time in 20 years.
After Washington, the Sun Devils play host to No. 6 Washington State on Saturday. Then they go to Los Angeles to face UCLA (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) and Southern California before taking on Arizona in Tucson. Their first home game after that stretch is against Stanford (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP), which handed the Sun Devils their first conference loss Saturday in Palo Alto.
"I think that we have prepared ourself for the stretch that we're coming up to," Glasser said. "The coaches are definitely going to stay on us."
First up are the Huskies (11-7, 2-3), who are coming off a home sweep of the Oregon schools last weekend. The Huskies have won 10 straight over the Sun Devils, the longest active win streak by any Pac-10 team over a conference rival.
Washington is led by 6-foot-7 junior forward Jon Brockman, who last week earned Pac-10 Player of the Week honors for the third time this season. Brockman is fourth in the conference in scoring (18.7 points per game) and first in rebounding (11.6 per game).
As their 67-52 loss at Stanford revealed, the Sun Devils are vulnerable against teams with strong frontcourts. Harden's ability to slash to the basket helps equalize Arizona State's disadvantage in the paint, and if he's out the Sun Devils will have to find other ways to score.
"It's going to be a tough thing to pick up just because James does so much for us," said forward Jeff Pendergraph, who is shooting a conference-best 64.7 percent from the floor. "But we're kind of trying not to think about it like, 'Oh, James is gone, what are we going to do?'
"That will just be a perfect opportunity for somebody that hasn't been playing as much as they want to just come right in and do what they need to do to help the team." Pendergraph said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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