Herb Sendek has knocked off a ranked team every year since he came to ASU in 2006. But not this year.
Not yet anyhow.
Sunday may be the last chance for the head coach this season. Which makes the game against No. 15 Arizona all the more interesting.
Interesting for the fans, perhaps, but critical to Sendek and the Arizona State players who just lost their ninth straight Pac-10 game in a 83-75 back-breaker to Stanford that left them with an abysmal 1-10 mark in conference play.
Stanford held just a three-point lead at the half, but shot a sizzling 57 percent from the floor in the second half to secure the win. ASU pulled to within four points a couple of times in the second half, but couldn’t get over the hump.
The real killer came at the free throw line, which the Cardinal used 34 times on the night and picked up 14 points on the Devils.
Jamelle McMillan had a career-high night with 17 points, and Trent Lockett added 14 more, but it just wasn’t enough to break the drought.
A home win over Arizona would be the answer to getting the train back on its tracks for the second half of the conference schedule.
However, as the Sun Devils (9-14) continue their free-fall, the Wildcats’ stock continues to rise. Arizona just jumped six spots in the Associated Press Top 25, moving up to No. 15.
Actually, ASU may have one last chance if they can’t pull it off against Arizona on their own floor.
Washington is up next and the Huskies could be ranked again at that point. But that’s a bit of a long shot.
The Huskies just fell out of the Top 25, thanks to a three-game losing streak that continued Saturday with a five-point loss to Oregon in Eugene. But they have two more games before meeting ASU on Feb. 17. If they can beat both Cal and Stanford, they might be able to nudge their way back into the rankings.
And give Sendek one more shot at a win over a ranked opponent, to keep his string alive.
But there’s much more at stake in Sunday’s game. In addition to the Territorial Cup points the winner gets, ASU needs the win to begin salvaging an extremely disappointing season. On the other side of the coin, Arizona needs to avoid the loss to be able to hold on to its national ranking and hopefully secure a high seed when the NCAA tourney rolls around next month.
Without question, Arizona has a much better chance of reaching their goal – despite the fact that the game will be played in a hostile environment.
ASU will host a Wildcat team that is coming into Wells Fargo Arena on a roll. Sean Miller’s squad is 20-4 on the season, in command of first place in the Pac-10, and on a five-game winning streak.
And they’re coming off a huge high after pulling out a thriller against California that went three overtimes before Arizona squeezed out a 107-105 victory in a game that had 14 ties and 17 lead changes.
And they handled the overtime pressure without their leading scorer, as Derrick Williams fouled out with 21.9 ticks left in regulation. His 12 points weren’t his usual output, but he made a huge contribution on the glass as he grabbed 18 boards.
Lamont Jones and Kevin Parrom took over the scoring duties, as Jones finished with a career-high 27 points and Parrom also hit a career mark as he added 25. It was the sixth straight game that Jones has scored in double figures.
This match-up has been worth the admission price when played at Wells Fargo Arena. An average of less than seven points have decided the last six games in Tempe, including three games decided by just three points, and one overtime.
For the record, Arizona has won four of the six.
And that was the story in Tucson last month when the Cats won, 80-69. Williams scored 31 points in that contest and recorded his fifth double-double of the season, and his team controlled the boards with a +15 margin.
That game was played in the friendly confines of McKale Center. But anything can happen on the road.
Especially when the road leads to Tempe this time.