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Post play will have key role in rivalry showdown

Senior forward Jeff Pendergraph heads for the basket during a game against Mississippi Valley State earlier in the season at Wells Fargo Arena.(Lindy Mapes/ The State Press)

For once, he let them enjoy it.

Heck, he even smiled himself.

ASU coach Herb Sendek, well-known for his perpetual focus and preparation, usually doesn’t let his players bask in the glow of victory for more than minutes after the buzzer.

But Saturday was different.

After ASU’s scintillating 61-58 overtime victory at No. 13 UCLA, even the coach was happy.

“He came in [the locker room] with a big old grin on his face,” senior forward Jeff Pendergraph said. “He [usually] comes in there like, ‘That was a good win, fellas, that was a good win. But, we’ve got a lot to learn after this game.’

“But after the UCLA game he came in there like, ‘Enjoy it because when 12 a.m. comes, you guys got to get ready for the next game.’ It was like alright cool, I’ve got a good eight hours to enjoy this game rather than 10 minutes, I’ll take it.”

It was a stark contrast to the Sendek that entered the locker room after ASU’s disappointing 61-49 loss to USC just two days before.

Junior guard Derek Glasser said it was the maddest he had ever seen Sendek.

Pendergraph took it a step further.

“He was hot,” Pendergraph said. “It was crazy, I’ve never seen him that mad before either. Just look up the definition of [mad] … and then you’ll see a picture of coach Sendek.”

The No. 17 Sun Devils (15-3, 4-2 Pac-10) will try to keep Sendek smiling Wednesday night, as they travel to Tucson for a showdown with rival UA (11-7, 2-4).

While ASU sophomore guard James Harden grabs most of the headlines — and worthily so — Wednesday’s game may center on the low post.

That’s because Pendergraph will butt heads with junior Jordan Hill, UA’s uber-athletic forward who has become one of the nation’s best.

“[Hill] can be a human highlight film,” Sendek said. “He and [University of Oklahoma forward] Blake Griffin have the most double-doubles in the country. To me, Jordan Hill has to be in that conversation.”

Pendergraph said he and Hill got to know each other this past summer, as they trained together in a camp put on by Phoenix Suns big man Amar’e Stoudemire.

While Pendergraph said the two have “no beef” off the court, he added that it will be “all business” on it.

“It’s fun playing against guys like [Hill],” Pendergraph said. “I think it’s kind of boring to watch guards trying to cross each other over and shoot [3-pointers] on each other all day. That gets lame and boring. But I mean, when you got someone dunking on somebody and the next time they’re going at it … that’s fun and exciting.”

Hill is one prong on UA’s trident of talent that also includes point guard Nic Wise and forward Chase Budinger.

Last season, ASU swept the Wildcats for the first time since 1995.

Pendergraph had a monster outing at the McKale Center in the second game of series, as he dropped 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Hill, meanwhile, managed just six points and seven rebounds. Still, Pendergraph said he knows to expect much more from Hill this time around.

“We know they’re not the same team that they were last year,” Pendergraph said. “We have the same people but we’re not the same team, but it’s still going to be an up in the air thing.”

Not only is UA’s player rotation a bit different, it also has a new coach roaming the sidelines. Russ Pennell, a former ASU assistant coach under Rob Evans and Sun Devil basketball TV analyst, talked to Sendek before taking the job at UA.

“I have great respect for Russ, he’s a great friend,” Sendek said. “I enjoyed our time together here a great deal. He was really thoughtful and considerate — given the nature of the change he was about to make — to let me know before I read about it in the papers or saw it on TV.”

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