Something that was a bit overlooked in Arizona this weekend was ASU's huge upset over UCLA yesterday afternoon.
With the Cardinals hosting the Eagles today (and winning their first ever spot in the Super Bowl), the bandwagon fans of Phoenix were only able to focus on one sport at a time.
Still, ASU did catch some pundits off guard with their performance in Pauley Pavilion, where they won 61-58 in an immensely entertaining overtime game.
One thing that truly caught the attention of this blogger was the game-changing performance of James Harden. This kid has developed way beyond anyone's wildest dreams. He is playing like an NBA star. Last year, the holes in his game were more evident, and his defensive intensity was, at times, questionable.
After being held to 4 points in the loss to USC on Thursday, Harden was able to bounce back in a commanding fashion, overpowering the UCLA defense in the second half, scoring 19 points and playing like a man possessed.
The turning point of the game was clearly in the second half, when Harden was evidently fouled, but no call was made. After UCLA scored the easy layup, Harden stayed down on the floor while Herb Sendek campaigned on his star player's behalf.
Harden was visibly shaken, bending over on the sideline after the play was over. Once he returned to the game, the intensity he brought to the floor spread to every Sun Devil. Playing strong defense and making impressive drives to the basket, Harden compelled his team to shut down the Bruins for the final minutes of the half, cutting their lead from 54-43 to a 54-54 tie at the end of regulation.
After that, it was all Sun Devils.
Derek Glasser looked like a legitimate point guard, making solid passes and setting up Jeff Pendergraph for alley-oop dunks multiple times over the course of the game.
On the same note, Pendergraph played well, and kept us going while Harden was slowed. At the same time, Rihards Kuksiks (or is it "Rooksiks"? I can never tell with Verne Lundquist doing the announcing) did not play up to his 60% 3PT shooting billing, scoring only 6 points on the afternoon.
But the defense! ASU has arrived. This is a team that can truly make some noise come tournament time. While a lot of teams have good defense and solid shooting, no one else can protest to the reality we now face: James Harden is the best basketball player in the country, bar none.