Pac-10 Preview: Sun Devils Try to Stick Fork In Wildcats' NCAA Bubble

Steve AugerAnalyst IIMarch 12, 2009

Arizona Wildcats (19-12, 9-9) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (22-8, 11-7)


Thursday, March 12, 20093:00 PM PST


The first quarterfinal game of the Pac-10 tournament features the No. 5 seed Arizona Wildcats against the No. 4 seed Arizona State Sun Devils.


The Sun Devils swept both meetings with their inter-state rivals, winning 53-47 at the McKale Center and then edging out the Cats again, 70-68, at home.


The first game was as ugly as the score indicates.


Both teams shot under 30 percent from the floor. In addition, they both were even more horrific from beyond the arc as each squad sank less than 18 percent of their threes.


Getting the job done for the Sun Devils was their dynamic duo, and one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country, of James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph.


Harden led all scorers with 21 points. Pendergraph notched a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.


For the Wildcats, their two star forwards, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger, spear-headed the attack.


Hill, with 16 points and 15 boards, had a double-double of his own, while Budinger scored 14 and grabbed eight boards.


The second contest proved to be a much more offensive minded affair.


Although Arizona State committed nine more turnovers than Arizona, this game simply boiled down to making shots.


And the Sun Devils—53.3 percent—sank their shots at a better rate than the 41 percent of the Wildcats.


Harden—18 points, nine boards—was once again the go-to guy, but he did have a little more help.


Pendergraph recorded his second double-double in as many meetings with Arizona by scoring 16 points and hauling in 12 caroms. And Rihards Kuksiks proved to be a vital third scoring option with 17 points.


Arizona had four players in double figures led by Nic Wise’s 17 points to go along with seven assists.


Budinger came up huge for his team, scoring 13 points to go with nine boards, six assists, and four steals.


Hill and Kyle Fogg each scored 14 in a losing effort.


Current line: Arizona State -3.5


Arizona is 17-14 against the spread with a record of 7-6 as an underdog.


Arizona State is 16-8 against the spread with a record of 11-8 as the favorite.


The Wildcats enter the Pac-10 tournament with a front row seat squarely on the dreaded NCAA bubble while the Sun Devils are playing for seeding.


Arizona will be highly motivated to extend their 24-year NCAA tournament appearance streak. And what better way to do that than by claiming a few highly ranked scalps.


If Arizona can get by Arizona State, No. 1 seed Washington will likely be waiting in the semifinals. Win both of those games and the Wildcats can size themselves for a pair of dancing shoes.


Steve’s pick: Arizona +3.5