Harden Comes Up Huge in Sun Devil Win

March 12, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Pac-10 player of the year James Harden had 27 points and eight rebounds, and No. 23 Arizona State beat Arizona 68-56 Thursday in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, putting the Wildcats' long NCAA tournament streak in jeopardy.

Ty Abbott added 11 points and Jeff Pendergraph had 10 points and nine rebounds for fourth-seeded ASU (23-8), which advanced to Friday night's semifinals. The Sun Devils have an NCAA tournament berth locked up, no matter the outcome.

Jordan Hill had 20 points and 13 rebounds for fifth-seeded Arizona (19-13), which has appeared in 24 straight NCAA tournaments, the longest active streak and second-longest behind the 27-year streak by North Carolina from 1975-2001.

The Wildcats, losers of five of their last six games, will find out Sunday if their streak is extended when the brackets are announced. Arizona sweated out the selections last year before drawing a 10th seed and losing to West Virginia in the first round.

Nic Wise added 18 points for Arizona. Wildcats star Chase Budinger was held to eight points, shooting 3-for-15 including 1-for-9 from 3-point range.

The win gave ASU a three-game sweep of Arizona this season and was its fifth straight victory over the Wildcats--the Sun Devils' longest winning streak over their in-state rival since they won nine in a row from 1979-83.

The Wildcats dominated the Sun Devils during Hall of Famer Lute Olson's 24 years as their coach, going 43-6 against ASU, which had seven coaches during that time. Olson took a personal leave of absence before last season and officially retired in October. Olson attended the game and was warmly greeted by Wildcats fans. The Hall of Famer acknowledged the applause with a wave.

Third-year ASU coach Herb Sendek is 5-2 against the Wildcats.

ASU shot 52.1 percent to Arizona's 35.5 percent, winning handily despite being outrebounded 36-30.

Harden scored eight points during a 14-5 run to start the second half, giving the Sun Devils a 46-39 lead, and a 3-pointer by Rihards Kuksiks and a dunk by Harden made it 60-48 with 5:13 remaining. The Wildcats scored the next six points to draw within six, but ASU scored the game's final six points from the foul line.

ASU shot 7-of-9 to begin the game en route to an 18-11 lead. Abbott, averaging 6.3 points, had eight at that stage.

The Sun Devils then went cold, missing eight straight shots while being outscored 11-0 to fall behind 22-18. Neither team led by more than four points during the rest of the first half, which ended with the Wildcats on top 34-32.

Hill got off to a slow start, missing his first four shots, but the 6-foot-10 junior finished the half with 10 points and six rebounds, leading Arizona to a 17-10 advantage in that department.

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