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ASU rolls past Central Connecticut State

December 29, 2008

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Now comes the hard part for Arizona State.

James Harden scored 24 points and the 17th-ranked Sun Devils wrapped up a soft non-conference schedule with an 84-47 rout of Central Connecticut State on Monday night, matching their best start in 34 years.

"We did some pretty good things today," said Harden, the Pac-10's leading scorer at 23.7 points per game. "Now it's time for Pac-10. It's a tough game every game, no matter who it is."

The romp over the Blue Devils (5-6), who play in the Northeast Conference, was the latest in a string of easy victories over teams from small conferences. But the schedule toughens this weekend, when Arizona State (11-1) visits the Bay Area to take on Stanford (9-0) and California (11-2) to open Pac-10 play.

Arizona State is 1-9 in its last 10 visits to Palo Alto.

"We're going to go up and have our hands full with a very tough first weekend," coach Herb Sendek said. "I feel like we've done some good things. But in a sense, we have a whole new season. There's nothing that you carry over. We have a very tough first draw."

It was a performance any coach would love. ASU had 23 assists and shot 65.3 percent from the floor.

The Sun Devils hit 19 of their first 22 shots from the field and their first 15 from inside the arc. Arizona State was perfect from inside the 3-point line until Harden missed a runner in the lane with 18:07 to go.

"They shot lights-out," Blue Devils coach Howie Dickenman said. "Needless to say, we were outclassed tonight. We tried to fight to the final buzzer. We just didn't have the weapons that they have. We knew going in that it was going to be a heck of a challenge for us."

Arizona State took control with a 14-2 run midway through the first half. Harden scored the final seven points on a jumper, a 3-pointer and a dunk off a fast-break feed from Jamelle McMillan to give the Sun Devils a 22-9 lead.

ASU led 49-22 at halftime and outrebounded the Blue Devils 18-3 in the first half.

Arizona State improved to 20-4 when Harden, a sophomore, scores at least 20 points. He hit 10 of 17 shots from the floor, one of four from beyond the arc.

Ty Abbott added 15 points and Jeff Pendergraph 14 for the Sun Devils.

The outburst came one week after the Sun Devils hit a school-record 17 3-pointers in a blowout of Idaho State.

"Things have just been really flowing for us," Pendergraph said.

Ken Horton scored 12 for the Blue Devils.

The Sun Devils' opponents entered Monday with a combined 58-68 record. ASU's resume includes wins over Mississippi Valley State (0-13), Jackson State (1-10), Pepperdine (2-12) and Idaho State (2-10).

"We've been waiting," Harden said. "We're excited to do some things in the Pac-10."

Dickenman thinks Arizona State could challenge for a spot in the Final Four next March.

"I told the team inside, I don't want to put any pressure on Herb or anybody else, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was a final-eight team," Dickenman said. "Because they have some answers and they have some toughness."