Herb Sendek entered the season hoping to lead his Arizona State squad to its first NCAA appearance since 2009 and second since 2003. With Jahii Carson returning and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall in the mix, it seemed feasible. An early Pac-12 slide, however, fostered doubts about that potential. But the Sun Devils have won six of their past seven games, including Friday’s 69-66 double-overtime win over No. 2 Arizona in Tempe on Friday. Sendek recently spoke with ESPN.com about his team’s recent surge.
Now that you’ve had a few hours to breathe and think about it, how did your program pull off that upset win over your archrivals on Friday?
Sendek: It was a very entertaining college basketball game. Over the course of 50 minutes, I don’t think either team had more than a six-point lead. The game was hard-fought. Obviously, the game could’ve gone either way. We were fortunate in the end for [Jordan Bachynski] to come up with the blocked shot and seal the win for us.
What does a win like that say about your program and its resilience?
Sendek: We’ve had a string of games like this lately. We’ve now played three overtime games. Even some of our other games that didn’t go into overtime were close and hard-fought. I think it’s just very reflective of how strong the conference is right now. It’s very competitive. On most nights, there’s not a lot of separation between teams.
How worried were you at the end of Friday’s game, when Carson hung on the rim and the crowd rushed the court before the game was over?
Sendek: To be honest with you, I didn’t know what had happened because I thought time had expired. ... I started to wonder, 'Why isn’t Arizona leaving the court?' Then the official finally grabbed me and told me what the situation was. It all happened in a matter of seconds. It just was like a blur. Before you knew it, there was [time] put back on the clock and we had to finish the game again.
You lost three of your first five Pac-12 games but you’ve won six of your past seven. What has been the key to this run?
Sendek: I think sometimes too much is made of those kinds of runs. Three of five we lost. ... Two of those were at UCLA and at Arizona. This time we played Arizona at home. I don’t get too caught up in stretches and the runs each game. ... I do think our team has continued to get better, and I would say everybody in our league has done the same.
How important is an NCAA tournament bid to this team?
Sendek: It’s important to our team. I think it’s the No. 1 goal that we have as players and coaches. We’ll give it our best shot for sure. Compared to other challenges that people have around the world, other sufferings that take place every day, I don’t know how important it is. But in the world of sports, our world, it’s our No. 1 goal right now.
How much pressure do you feel to add an NCAA tournament appearance to your resume?
Sendek: I guess it depends on how much control you want to give other people over your own feelings. I think a certain amount of pressure can be a good thing if it’s self-imposed. But to the extent that others apply pressure to you, I don’t know that that has any great value.
What has Marshall added to your program?
Sendek: He’s been terrific. Jermaine has made one big shot after another for us. He’s just brilliant down the home stretch of games, and I think he’s really added a level of maturity and bestowed great confidence on his teammates. He’s just been a phenomenal teammate for us -- certainly down the stretch of the Arizona game ... he made one big shot after another.