TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -Arizona State's dream of its first Pac-10 title died in a pair of overtime losses at Washington and Washington State last weekend.
Now the 21st-ranked Sun Devils' focus turns to improving their NCAA tournament seed as they wrap up the regular season against Stanford on Thursday night and California on Saturday, both in Wells Fargo Arena.
It's a big change from a year ago, when the Sun Devils spent the last week of the season pushing to reach the NCAAs, only to come up short. But senior forward Jeff Pendergraph said he and his teammates aren't coasting because they've locked up an NCAA berth.
``I think it's just as urgent,'' Pendergraph said Tuesday. ``We're not trying to ... just to get in there and be happy. We want to get a run in, and the better we play now, the higher seed we get.''
Jostling for a high seed is an unfamiliar position for a team whose last NCAA appearance came in 2003, before any of the present Sun Devils had arrived.
where the NCAA tournament selectors will slot his team on March 15.
``I don't have that point of view,'' Sendek said. ``I'm not capable. Right now, it's like, Stanford.''
Sendek also doesn't bother telling his players to ignore Internet bracket projections, which seem to fluctuate daily.
``I'm more inclined to tell them to get back on defense,'' he said.
The Sun Devils' NCAA seed probably took a hit in the Pacific Northwest over the weekend.
On Thursday night, Arizona State lost to No. 21 Washington 73-70 in overtime. Two days later, they fell to Washington State 51-49 in overtime.
``It was a very difficult weekend,'' Sendek said. ``I don't know if you get over it or not, but you get ready for the next game.''
No one will be more ready than Pendergraph, who is approaching the end of one of the more interesting careers in ASU hoops history.
The 6-foot-9 Pendergraph arrived in 2005 from Etiwanda, Calif. He endured a coaching change after his freshman year, when ASU ousted Rob Evans and hired Sendek.
Pendergraph said he thought about transferring after Evans was fired. He had never heard of Sendek and wondered how he'd mesh with the new coach.
After Sendek arrived from North Carolina State in the spring of 2006, he didn't feel the need to sell Pendergraph on staying. Instead, he invited Pendergraph to take ownership of the program.
t came in April a couple of years ago, and I asked him to not only lead us on the court but to be a great ambassador for our program,'' Sendek said. ``I certainly think he has done that for us.''
It wasn't easy. In Pendergraph's sophomore season, the Sun Devils finished last in the Pac-10 and lost a school-record 15 straight games.
Two years later, they're headed for the NCAAs. One reason is James Harden, a likely NBA lottery pick, showed up last year.
But another reason is Pendergraph, Arizona State's only senior. Once hampered by his emotions and foul trouble, Pendergraph has developed into one of the better big men in the country - and he's playing his best as his college career nears its end.
Pendergraph leads the nation in field-goal percentage at 66.5 percent. In his last eight games, Pendergraph is averaging 15.4 points and 10.2 rebounds.
``As a player, he's been sensational,'' Sendek said. ``As good a career as he has had, you can make a strong argument that he's our most improved player.''
On Thursday night, Pendergraph is expected to make his 114th career start, matching Eddie House for the school record.
Pendergraph returned for his senior year after deciding he needed more seasoning before making a bid for the NBA.
first place. It's kind of surreal that things are working out the way they are.''
Pendergraph has blossomed off the court, earning his degree in economics last December. Once shy around microphones, he's become comfortable bantering with reporters.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pendergraph held court with the media for nearly 30 minutes. Before he left, he told reporters they would miss him.
``You guys are going to be stuck in here with coach Sendek all by yourselves,'' he said with a smile. ``It's not the same.''
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