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Originally published Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Pac-10 Basketball | Freshmen talent animates ASU

This was going to be a season of Pac-10 basketball when dark horses needn't apply, so many were the Thoroughbreds in the race. But the elite of...

Times college basketball Reporter

This was going to be a season of Pac-10 basketball when dark horses needn't apply, so many were the Thoroughbreds in the race. But the elite of the league might have to squeeze together to make way for one more candidate.

Arizona State, 12-2 overall and 2-0 in Pac-10 games, is dropping all sorts of hints that it doesn't agree with popular prognostications that placed the Sun Devils ninth in the league. We'll know more tonight, when ASU hosts Arizona, a team against which it has lost 24 of the past 25 meetings.

"It's our next game," second-year ASU coach Herb Sendek said Tuesday, clearly not letting himself get carried away.

Fans of the Sun Devils may not be on the same page with him. Get this: ASU is 2-0 in the league for the first time in 20 years. It's only the third time that has happened at ASU in the 30-year history of the league.

This is a team fed by promising freshmen, particularly 6-foot-5 wing James Harden, once recruited hard by Washington. In a 22-point thrashing of a good Xavier team Dec. 15, four of them — Harden, Ty Abbott, 6-6 Latvian Rihards Kuksiks and O'Dea High grad Jamelle McMillan — started, a first in school history.

The infusion of freshman talent, combined with two good returnees, big man Jeff Pendergraph and point guard Derek Glasser, has enabled the Sun Devils to break from the gate quickly. Playing the matchup zone Sendek has always favored, ASU held a mercurial Oregon team to 54 points, its lowest total in 55 games, and then swamped Oregon State by 19.

"James Harden makes an enormous difference," Beavers coach Jay John said Tuesday. "He's really, really good. In a conference full of heralded freshmen, I think he flies under the radar. We didn't have an answer for him.

"And Pendergraph, in a conference full of some high-profile big guys, more than holds his own.

"Defensively, their zone is different from what anybody else does in the conference. They're just very good at what they're doing right now."

Harden, Pac-10 player of the week, is the youngest player in the league at 18 years and four months and leads the team in scoring at 17.6. He attended the same high school (Artesia, Calif.) that produced UCLA's O'Bannon brothers in the 1990s and later, the Bruins' Jason Kapono.

Meanwhile, Glasser has made a quantum improvement, shooting 12 percent better than he did as a freshman and authoring a 3.15 assist-to-turnover ratio, eighth in the nation. The 6-9 Pendergraph has averaged 19 points and eight rebounds in his past five games.

Beating Arizona would be another worthy milepost for Sendek's rebuild, which began with an 8-22 record last season. Possibly returning from a knee sprain for the Wildcats is leading scorer (18.5) Jerryd Bayless, a product of Phoenix.

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The Giles file

The ever-eventful saga of C.J. Giles continues. The Rainier Beach grad who transferred from Kansas to Oregon State was supposed to have a bust-out season and then be off to the NBA draft.

Well, perhaps half that will take place. Last week, John benched Giles for the Arizona game because he missed one practice and was late to a second one.

On the floor, the 6-10 Giles has been a wild thing. Since becoming eligible in December, he has played six games, averaging 16 minutes, and 6.2 rebounds. But he has fouled out of four games, one more than the rest of his teammates combined.

The composite "is certainly a snapshot right now of where he is as a college player," John said. "He is not where he needs to be.

"He has a tag as a shot-blocker, and right now he's attacking people. He doesn't need to do that, at 6-10 with long arms. There are discipline issues there, putting himself in positions where he hurts himself."

That's a description that seems apt for Giles on and off the floor.

And what's more ...

• Giles was showered by chants of "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" by ASU students.

• Early this week, Oregon State announced the transfer of a former starter at Connecticut, Marcus Johnson, to the Beavers. Tuesday, the Beavers backtracked, saying he isn't coming after all.

• In Oregon's rebound victory at Arizona on Saturday, the Ducks started 6-6 Xavier transfer Churchill Odia, sitting down Tajuan Porter for the first time this season. The Ducks like Odia for his versatility and efficiency.

• After Stanford's Fred Washington held USC's O.J. Mayo to 5-for-19 shooting, Mayo said, "We're a family. We win together. We lose together. We shoot bad together."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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