ANAHEIM, Calif. – If this is sophomore James Harden’s last season at Arizona State, and he has not addressed the issue definitively, he is going out with a flourish.
Harden had his second 30-plus scoring game in seven days against Baylor late Friday, although his 32 points were not enough to enable ASU to reach the championship game of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The tournament is being played about 15 minutes from where Harden grew up, and he looked at home, scoring 23 points in the final 11 minutes of the Sun Devils’ 87-78 loss, which sent them into the third-place game against UTEP at 6 p.m. today.
“We tried to not go down without a fight,” Harden said.
The trickiest part of ASU’s offense seems to be when, exactly, to let Harden take up the fight. He scored 33 points against Pepperdine on Nov. 23 — he had more points than Pepperdine until late in the second half — but took only five shots in an 84-56 victory over Charlotte here Thursday, although he finished with 15 points by making all 11 of his free-throw attempts.
Though the Sun Devils (4-1) did not need much from Harden then, they needed him a whole bunch after Baylor took a 61-46 lead Friday behind the shooting of guards Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn, whose range is as exotic as his first name.
The Bears made 51 percent of their field-goal attempts, becoming the first team to shoot at least 50 percent against ASU this season, and made 11 of their 24 3-point attempts, with Dunn going 6-for-12.
After Dunn’s sixth 3-pointer, ASU simply geared its offense to Harden, giving him the ball on the right wing or at the top of the key, then setting screens to give him options.
Controlling the ball on almost every possession, he made four 3-pointers, two layups and seven foul shots, most coming when he was hit driving the basket. Jerrells, a friend, could not stop him, and neither could Dunn.
“He’s a great player. He is going to get his shots,” said Jerrells, who had 22 points.
“I was guarding him and he got away from me a little bit. I told LaceDarius he was doing a better job, so take over.”
Harden said his contributions are designed to fit into the framework of the team.
“If my teammates want me to score or to make plays for them, I feel comfortable,” Harden said. “It’s a team effort.”