TEMPE, Ariz. -- For most of the game, it looked as if James Harden might personally outscore Pepperdine.
Arizona State's star guard finished with a career-high 33 points and had 12 rebounds as the No. 15 Sun Devils shook off a lackluster start to beat Pepperdine 61-40 on Sunday.
It was the fourth career double-double for Harden, a sophomore who has led Arizona State (3-0) in scoring or shared the lead in 28 of his 37 games.
Harden, as usual, declined to take credit for his dominating performance.
"My teammates did a real good job of finding me," he said.
When Harden went to the sideline for good late in the second half, he had the 33 points, the same as Pepperdine. Not bad for a player who had been battling a bad cold and a cough.
Harden had 12 of Arizona State's 21 field goals. He was 12-of-19 from the floor, including 1-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc, and he hit eight of nine free throws.
"Obviously, James was the difference for us with his offensive production," coach Herb Sendek said.
On a day that Harden was Arizona State's only offensive threat, the Sun Devils relied on defense, as they have since Herb Sendek arrived in the desert. In Sendek's two-plus seasons, they've conceded only 61.7 points per game.
On Sunday, the Sun Devils had 13 steals and harried Pepperdine into 20 turnovers. They limited the Waves to 26.7 percent shooting from the floor.
Dane Suttle Jr. scored 11 points for the Waves (1-4), who have dropped four straight.
"We struggled against their zone, obviously," Pepperdine coach Tom Asbury said. "We just didn't get enough good looks at the basket. They did a good job defensively. They shut us down. That's the bottom line."
But Sendek was unimpressed by Arizona State's defensive statistics. He'd like to see his team give up fewer open looks and get more hands on the ball.
"The numbers are good, but just being there courtside, I just firmly believe that we have to learn how to sustain great effort across the board," Sendek said.
"I don't mean to sound like the Grinch with the holidays on the horizon," Sendek said. "I am recognizing some of the good. But I am also left with a little bit of a hollow feeling because I know how I want us to play."
The Sun Devils were coming off a 59-52 victory at San Diego State, a game in which they trailed 15-2. They had another slow start in front of a sparse Wells Fargo Arena crowd on Sunday afternoon.
The Waves led 13-11 midway through the first half, but Arizona State awoke when point guard Derek Glasser hit Harden with a fullcourt pass, and Harden jammed to tie the score.
That launched a 16-6 run that gave the Sun Devils a 27-19 halftime lead.
The Waves sliced the lead to 29-24 in the opening minutes of the second half, but Harden took over again. He scored Arizona State's first 17 points of the second half.
"He's strong and penetrates," Asbury said. "He's so strong he can get inside and get fouled. He's a real strong presence inside."
Arizona State plays Charlotte on Thursday in the Anaheim Classic in California. The Waves play host to Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday.