ANAHEIM, Calif. - Arizona State coach Herb Sendek calls his aggressive matchup defense “just a zone.”
That seems a bit like saying a rainbow is just a bunch of colors.
The No. 14 ASU basketball team harassed Charlotte into 21 turnovers and 34.4 percent field-goal shooting in a decisive 84-56 victory over the 49ers on Thursday in the first round of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center.
ASU used its 1-2-2 matchup to improve to 4-0 for the third time in the past 22 seasons, the first under Sendek.
“I think I am going to ask Herb if I can study that,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said.
“It’s so hard to simulate in practice, They are very intelligent. They communicate extremely well. It’s unique. We were just beaten by a better team. We didn’t play well, but they had a lot to do with that.”
Center Jeff Pendergraph had 23 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season, while reigning Pac-10 player of the week James Harden had 15 points — on two baskets and 11-for-11 free-throw shooting.
The Sun Devils set a record in the 2-year-old tournament by making 61.0 percent of their field-goal attempts. Harden (2-for-5) was the only player who made less than half his attempts.
ASU will play the winner of Thursday night’s late game between Baylor and Providence today.
“I thought it was a really good team win. Our defense paved the way,” Sendek said.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with (20) turnovers, but I thought our defense was the key. The guys played hard. They were aware of where they (49ers) were going with the ball. They did a good job communicating.”
ASU started early, forcing turnovers on seven of Charlotte’s first 10 possessions, and the 49ers had only two field goals in the first 12 minutes.
The Sun Devils’ lead was 12 points, 21-9, when Pendergraph made two free throws with 7:30 remaining in the first half, and ASU stretched that to 16 in the half.
Charlotte made a mini-rally to close to within six points at 41-35 four minutes into the second half, but the Sun Devils pulled away with an 18-6 run keyed by Harden’s nine points.
As effective as ASU’s defense has been this season in holding opponents to 35.1 field-goal percentage and 53 points a game, Harden said the Devils are just scratching the surface.
“I think we’re grasping the fact that we can lock down people and play great defense. We saw it today. It was a great defensive win. We just have to continue doing it,” he said.
“We are in them, pressuring the ball, talking on defense, it’s exciting for us as a team and really disrupts their offense as well.”
With Harden’s 11-for-11 from the foul line, the Sun Devils shot 83.9 percent, making 26 of 31 overall and 19-of-20 in the second half. Pendergraph was 7-of-9. Ty Abbott, who had 14 points, was 5-of-6.
“Jeff and James each carried the torch for us,” Sendek said. “James gave us effective penetration, and they got to the line 20 times between them.”
ASU is the highest-ranked team in the tournament, and with another victory today could meet No. 19 Wake Forest in Sunday’s finals. Wake plays UTEP in the other semifinal today.
“It’s nice to be one of those teams that everybody wants to look out for and one that everybody else wants to watch instead of one of those teams that people kind of forget about, or gets lost in the rest of the 300 others,” Pendergraph said.