TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -Arizona State thought its resume was impressive enough to be included in the NCAA tournament.
After all, the Sun Devils swept Arizona twice this season, finished ahead of the Wildcats in the Pac-10 standings, beat Stanford and was eliminated from the conference tournament on a highly disputed call.
Yet they were left out of the NCAA tournament field Sunday, while Arizona was invited.
``Obviously, it's a very disappointing moment for us,'' coach Herb Sendek said after speaking to his team. ``We were anxious all weekend, following our game against USC. And at this point, the coaches and the players hurt a great deal.''
The Sun Devils (19-12) will play Alabama State in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Despite being left out of the NCAA tournament, Sendek's accomplishments in his second season leading the Sun Devils are impressive. He took a team that was 2-16 in the Pac-10 a year ago and improved to 9-9 in the conference this season.
Sendek acknowledged that the strength of schedule was his team's undoing, but said it was molded to fit an improving but young squad coming off such a tough year.
``Where you finish in the conference and head-to-head competition today wasn't as important, obviously, as some of the other considerations,'' he said.
The Sun Devils lost to Southern California in the Pac-10 quarterfinals when Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph was called for an over-the-back foul after making a basket in the final seconds that would have tied the game. Replays showed there was virtually no contact on the play, and even the USC player said he didn't think it was a foul.
A late call also led to a 56-55 home loss to Washington State.
Arizona State had victories over Xavier, Stanford and USC - as well as the sweep of Arizona. The Sun Devils also finished ahead of Oregon, which was invited to play in the NCAA tournament.
But Sendek knew all along that his team's fate largely rested on how many at-large berths were taken away by surprise conference tournament outcomes.
Georgia's triumph in the Southeastern Conference may have been the one that knocked Arizona State out of the field.
``I knew that we were on the edge,'' he said. ``I wasn't confident. I was anxious. I was in turmoil. I knew that every game mattered. I knew that Georgia mattered. I knew that Wisconsin-Illinois mattered. There was enough information, there was enough smoke in the air to know that we could be anything but comfortable.''
Pendergraph shrugged when asked how he felt about Arizona getting in.
``It's whatever, he said. ``I mean, that's just how things go.''
He also said it was a learning experience for a young team that will lose only one player this year.
Sendek said he told his players that before they point fingers, they should realize there were things they could have done to make it more difficult for the selection committee to leave them out.
He also said that not making the NCAA in no way diminished what his squad had done in its second season since Sendek left North Carolina State to take over at ASU.
``If the committee would have put us in, that didn't make us any better,'' he said. ``By them omitting us doesn't make us any worse. The facts are what they are.''
Arizona was selected to the NCAAs for the 24th year in a row. Arizona State hasn't made it since 2003. Sendek was asked if he thought a program's history figured in to the committee's decisions.
``I hope not,'' he said. ``Let's give the committee the benefit of the doubt and say their integrity would always prevent that from happening.''
As for the upcoming NIT game?
``We're pretty good,'' Pendergraph said, ``at dusting ourselves off and moving on.''
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