New coach will try to fix that, starting tonight
Lute Olson will shake hands with the seventh Arizona State men’s basketball coach in the past 24 seasons when he walks to midcourt at McKale Center before tonight’s 7:30 game.
The Sun Devils have fewer victories against Arizona than coaches, having gone a dismal 6-41 since Olson took over as coach of the Wildcats in the 1983-84 season.
“It’s just an example of how far above the Arizona program is over Arizona State,” said former ASU coach Bill Frieder, who went 4-12 against UA, making him the most successful of the bunch. “When you dominate a rivalry like that, it just shows how far ahead you are.”
The gap is Grand Canyonesque. UA has a 10-game winning streak versus ASU and is 22-1 since losing 103-98 in double overtime in Tucson on March 11, 1995.
“Beating them in Tucson was a great thrill,” Frieder said. “Very few teams beat them in Tucson. We did.”
Now comes Herb Sendek’s turn. To his credit, the last time he faced Olson, he beat him on a bigger, more important stage – the NCAA Tournament. He coached Miami (Ohio) to a 71-62 first-round victory in 1995.
And his defense-oriented team, led by forward Jeff Pendergraph, plays a slow-down style that has frustrated Arizona at times this season.
“I like Herb, and I like what he’s doing,” said Frieder, now a college basketball radio color analyst for Westwood One. “I think he’ll make inroads. At what level he can get the program to, that remains to be seen.”
It would help to just win. If UA were one of the victims, that would help. Winning always helps in building a program. Worrying about Big Brother (the Wildcats) shouldn’t be a concern.
“I remember saying that Lute has one of the top programs in the country, and you’re not going to do anything to that program,” Frieder said. “You’re just going to have to bring ASU to a higher level.”
Frieder tried, and for a couple of years it looked as if he was headed in the right direction. In eight seasons, he guided ASU to two NCAA Tournament berths and four NITs. That coincided with ASU’s three-game win streak over UA in the mid-1990s.
“Mario Bennett was 4 and 1 against Arizona,” Frieder said proudly. “Who knows? Had he stayed healthy and maybe stayed (in school), it may have been enough to get ASU to the next level.”
But scandal hit (players point shaving), and Frieder was dismissed.
Interim coach Don Newman couldn’t beat UA, and Rob Evans beat the Cats just once in 17 games.
“I’m the only one who has made a little splash,” Frieder said. “It’s very hard to sustain (the success). It’s just a testament to Lute’s program and an indication of how far ASU has to go.”
If living in UA’s shadow is difficult, there’s also the problem of being second fiddle to the Phoenix Suns and all the other professional teams in the Phoenix area. When it comes to publicity, ASU is usually an afterthought.
“The pro sports are a huge problem. Being in that market with that competition (for fans) is always going to affect attendance,” Frieder said. “When you affect attendance, you affect national TV.”
Olson said drawing fans has long been ASU’s problem while recruiting.
“Kids do not want to play in a half-filled arena,” Olson said. “Whether that can be overcome or not, I don’t know. I think that is his biggest challenge, getting people in the seats.
“You can sign some kids the first time around, (but) if the fans don’t react, you are going to have a hard time signing kids the next time around.”
Sendek did his part with his first recruiting class. He signed four top-100 players, including one top-25 standout. The class is ranked No. 15 among all recruiting classes and is one of ASU’s best.
Still, Arizona trumped the Sun Devils, coming in with the No. 8 recruiting class.
“That’s why I didn’t recruit against Lute very much,” Frieder said. “Recruits want to be on national TV and in the NCAA Tournament. Until you develop that, it affects your recruiting.
“Arizona State can’t worry about Arizona. ASU has to worry about ASU because Arizona is always going to be there. It’s too good of a program.”
OLSON VS. ASU, 1984-2006
• ASU (7 coaches) – 350-349 (.501) – 3 NCAAs, 8 NITs
• UA’s Lute Olson – 582-182 (.762) – 22 straight NCAAs
HOW ASU’S SEVEN COACHES HAVE FARED SINCE LUTE OLSON CAME TO UA IN 1983-84:
• Bob Weinhauer (1983-85) – 25-31 (.446)
• Steve Patterson (1985-89) – 48-56 (.462)
• Bob Schermerhorn (1989) – 2-7 (.222)
• Bill Frieder (1989-1997) – 132-108 (.550) – 2 NCAAs, 4 NITs
• Don Newman (1997-98) – 18-14 (.563) – 1 NIT
• Rob Evans (1998-2006) – 119-120 (.498) – 1 NCAA, 3 NITs
UA’s Mustafa Shakur recently is shooting better than his teammates and leads the team in FG percentage (53.3). It tells you how bad things are for UA. He should dominate ASU’s Christian Polk or Jerren Shipp or both. Now UA’s Jawann McClellan must get through his funk.
ASU’s Jeff Pendergraph is solid near the basket. UA’s Ivan Radenovic will have another hard time defending him underneath. But ASU doesn’t have the players to stop Marcus Williams, Chase Budinger or Radenovic. ASU’s Serge Angounou is struggling.
UA defenders continue to run hot and cold, shutting down teams for a stretch only to have trouble later stopping penetration. ASU will use a zone and hope UA continues to miss. It’s a possibility. ASU is holding teams to 63 points a game. UA should be in that range.
On paper this looks to be a blowout. But with the style the Devils use – slow, methodical – they will make UA work. The Cats have tried to make teams run, but they don’t always finish plays. Can they tonight? Yes.
UA by 11