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Harden, No. 19 Sun Devils roll overmatched Nebraska

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even with a solid defensive effort keyed on its top two players, No. 19 Arizona State had more than enough to get the Pac-10 a win in the series with the Big 12.

James Harden, the Sun Devils' leading scorer, was held without a field goal for more than 19 minutes but still finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead Arizona State past Nebraska 64-44 on Sunday.

The Sun Devils played some impressive defense themselves, holding the Cornhuskers to 29 percent shooting and 20 points under their season scoring average.

"I think, obviously, the difference in the game for us was our defense," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "Even when we weren't scoring at the beginning of both halves, we didn't allow that to carry over to the defensive end of the floor."

Rihards Kuksiks added career highs of 18 points and six rebounds and Ty Abbott scored 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed eight rebounds for the Sun Devils, who are 7-1 for the second time since 1990.

Steve Harley scored 11 points to lead the Cornhuskers (6-1), who were just 13-of-45 from the field.

"That's what we have been focusing on is defense," Abbott said. "Our offense has to start with our defense. That's how it's going to run."

Harden, who came into the game with a 26.3 average, was held without a field goal until the final minute of the first half but had 14 points, on 5-of-6 shooting, in the second half.

"So many of the good things that happen to us are a function of James," Sendek said. "Whether he scores or sets the table for one of his teammates, he's really special."

Nebraska tried to key on Harden and center Jeff Pendergraph, who was held to four points -- nine under his average -- but he grabbed 10 rebounds.

With extra attention to Harden and Pendergraph, Kuksiks and Abbott stepped up.

"You've got a decision to make," Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. "You decide to let Harden and Pendergraph beat you or are you going to make the supporting cast beat you? We decided to make the other guys make plays and we hold Harden and Pendergraph to 24 and we get beat by 20. We didn't make the right decision."

Nebraska, the lowest scoring team in the Big 12 at 66.2 points a game, struggled from the field, missing 17 of 23 (26 percent) shots in first half and were 8-of-35 (23 percent) when Arizona State took a 43-27 lead with 7:09 remaining.

The Sun Devils outrebounded the Cornhuskers 37-25.

"The ball has to go inside," Sadler said. "We didn't get the ball inside at all. When you only have to defend the perimeter, you've defended about 90 percent more stuff."

Arizona State missed 10 of its first 11 shots but rallied with an 11-2 run midway through the first half, keyed by Abbott's consecutive 3-pointers. Abbott and Harden hit 3s late in the half to give the Sun Devils a 30-18 halftime lead.

The Sun Devils ran off eight straight points in the second half after Nebraska had gotten within 35-27 with 14:06 left. Harley was ahead of the field on a breakaway but Abbott blocked the layup from behind and Arizona State started its run.

The Sun Devils' zone defense forced Nebraska to stay out of the lane, where the Cornhuskers scored just six points. Nebraska tried a man-to-man defense in the first half and tried a fullcourt press in the second, but the quicker, bigger Sun Devils had little difficulty, committing just 12 turnovers.