Men’s basketball opens Pac-10 tournament against Ducks

Favorable momentum: ASU senior guard Rihards Kuksiks shoots over Oregon State redshirt junior forward Kevin McShane during the Sun Devils’ 80-66 victory over the Beavers on Saturday. ASU opens the first round against Oregon on Wednesday, the only Pac-10 team it swept this season. (Photo by Scott Stuk)

In 1997, Herb Sendek’s North Carolina State team nearly pulled off a miracle.

Seeded eighth in the then-nine-team Atlantic Coast Conference, Sendek’s Wolfpack had to participate in the play-in game and didn’t have much hope of making a deep run in the conference tournament.

Instead, NC State went to the championship game before falling to North Carolina in the final.

That is just one of many examples that Sendek has shared with his current team, with 10th-seeded ASU facing similar odds as it opens the Pac-10 Tournament Wednesday night against seventh-seeded Oregon at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

While it would take a miracle for the Sun Devils to run the table and seal the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the job now is to show that it can be done.

“Multiple times throughout the season, he’s brought in different instances. Just to show us it can be done,” sophomore guard Trent Lockett said. “You have to know that it is possible, but at the same time you have to go game by game, like everybody says.”

ASU heads into the conference tournament with momentum, having won consecutive games for the first time since late December.

In UO, ASU is matched up against the only conference foe that it swept this season. This includes a 73-53 victory in Tempe last Thursday.

“It is going to be a new game, and we are going to have to beat them again,” Sendek said. “By that, I mean out play them and do all that we are capable of at a high level.”

While the Sun Devils have matched up well with the Ducks this season, this may be the one team ASU could be overconfident against.

As crazy as a last place conference team being overconfident may sound, it has to be a concern, especially after how easily the Sun Devils won last week.

“We certainly have no reason to be overconfident,” Sendek said. “If we do the things we are capable of doing, as competitors, you have to go in and play with confidence.”

The Sun Devils will also have to erase the rough regular season from their minds. But they must also keep the momentum going from last weekend.

“It is kind of like a new season, but we want to bring the momentum in from last weekend,” Lockett said. “It is hard to beat a team three times. It comes down to who wants it more.”

Part of ASU’s newfound momentum comes from all three of its seniors being healthy and playing at the same high level they played at in their last two games.

“It is real big,” senior guard Ty Abbott said. “The three of us seniors are playing collectively the way we should have been. That is big for us. Now we know what to do and how to do it, now it is about going out and doing it.”

ASU will go into the tournament with nothing to lose, everything to gain and a mindset that even though the odds are stacked against them, anything is possible.

“I think it is very possible,” Abbott said. “It is very possible, it happens each year. We are going to try to do the same thing.

“We have to play 40 minutes hard in each game and play them smart. Playing really hard and being smart at the same time. It is going to come down to how much we want it.”

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