Thursday, March 13, 2008
Arizona State's loses after another controversial last-second call
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES -- Arizona State coach Herb Sendek flailed his arms wildly at official Michael Eggers, motioning toward him as Eggers walked off the court. Sendek wanted to ensure the referee knew his disdain for a foul call that took away a game-tying basket with 16.9 seconds remaining.
Eggers called an over-the-back foul on ASU's Jeff Pendergraph as the Sun Devils' junior forward flushed home an offensive putback over USC's Davon Jefferson for what would have been a 57-57 tie. Instead, Pendergraph was gone from the game with his fifth foul. Jefferson went to the line and made both free throws.
And USC won the Pac-10 quarterfinal 59-55 on Thursday at the Staples Center. The game was essentially over once the call was made.
O.J. Mayo, left, and USC beat Arizona State, but the Trojans got a friendly whistle that took away the game-tying basket.
Sendek wasn't taking any solace in the fact that Arizona State's NCAA tournament selection hopes rest on a 22-point nonconference win over Xavier and league wins over Arizona (two), Stanford, USC and Oregon, wins that should be enough to warrant a bid.
USC coach Tim Floyd didn't hesitate to politic for ASU as soon as the game ended. He called ASU "a tournament team" during his postgame news conference. He rattled off the Sun Devils' résumé. He talked about their zone that flustered the Trojans into 19 turnovers.
"I don't believe there was a tournament decision based on that call," Floyd said. "I think they're a tournament team."
Sendek felt the same way. So, too, did Pendergraph. But the outcome was still hard to digest. Sendek, usually very reserved, was livid after Thursday's loss.
"It's hard to swallow," he said, adding that he had received a number of text messages from friends around the country questioning the call.
After the game, Staples Center production personnel played the video of the call, and it was inconclusive as to whether or not there was contact between Pendergraph and Jefferson.
Pendergraph said he didn't feel any contact, saying he just dunked the ball.
"No one boxed me out. I just saw the ball off the rim," Pendergraph said.
When Pendergraph heard the whistle, he knew he was doomed. "I didn't see him give me an and-one [for the foul]," Pendergraph said. "I was looking around. I couldn't believe it. It felt like a bad sports movie. That's why I took my time coming off the court."
ASU freshman James Harden said he was under the basket and didn't see any contact, either.
The Pac-10 hasn't had a good week. Last weekend, UCLA beat Stanford and Cal at home on debatable calls in the final possessions of regulation.
"It's a hard game to officiate," Sendek said. "I know they're trying to do their best. No one is trying to take anything away from anybody. There are split-second decisions. I'm compassionate [to the officials], but it's still painful [to lose]."
Sendek, who has taken Miami (Ohio) and NC State to the NCAAs, said getting there would be wonderful again and a great moment for the one senior on the team, Antwi Atuahene.
The question the selection committee asks when it evaluates the final teams it will consider for at-large bids is whether or not a team is one of the 34 best teams remaining.
ASU (19-12, 9-9) certainly looked the part Thursday.
"We beat the same USC team by 14 two weeks ago; we can play against good competition; we've got good quality wins," Sendek said. "We're not foreign against playing those types of teams. Could we win? We sure have already."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.