SEATTLE - A sore back and wrist had James Harden in a deep freeze.
Then the freshman star got hot in a hurry — and just in time for endangered Arizona State.
Harden recovered from a miserable night Thursday with 25 points and eight rebounds Saturday to lead the Sun Devils to a season-saving 77-63 victory over flat Washington.
“OK? Yeah, very good,” a chuckling Harden said when asked about that sore back.
He could have been talking about his young Sun Devils, too. Arizona State (17-9, 7-7 Pac-10) ended an 11-game losing streak to Washington that had been the longest domination inside the conference. The Sun Devils also rebounded from losing two straight after beating No. 7 Stanford. The skid had jeopardized chances at their first berth in the NCAA tournament since 2003.
Harden had just 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting in a 12-point loss at No. 17 Washington State on Thursday. He had that many in the first 14½ minutes Saturday, as the Sun Devils never relinquished the lead it took 30 seconds into the game.
Slashing inside and shooting outside, Harden made seven of 11 shots and set a Sun Devils’ freshman record with his 13th game of 20 points or more — one more than Ike Diogu.
He said coaches made adjustments in the off day between awful and awesome.
“Just my feet and balance,” while shooting, Harden said.
It evened Arizona State’s chances at an NCAA berth. No team has finished 9-9 in the Pac-10 and made the NCAAs. Arizona State’s case hinges on being one of five teams to have four wins over teams in the top 25 of the RPI, the power ranking the selection committee uses to help choose its field. The team picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10 before the season has victories over Stanford, Xavier and Arizona (twice).
“We knew what was at stake. This is one we had to have if we want to make the tournament,” said Jamelle McMillan, who grew up five minutes from Washington’s campus and scored three points in his homecoming Saturday.
Asked how often the Sun Devils talk about getting into the NCAA tournament, McMillan said, “Every single day.”
Washington (15-13, 6-9) can stop doing that.
Jon Brockman had 21 points and 15 rebounds, his 20th double-double of the season for the Huskies, who shot just 35.5 percent. Washington ended their home season 12-6, its worst home record since coach Lorenzo Romar’s first season in 2003.
Saturday, the same Huskies who mauled No. 5 UCLA and Arizona in its previous two home games looked more like the dogs who have played dead at Oregon and against Southern California in the last two weeks.
The Huskies could have jumped into fifth place in the conference. Instead, they are tied for eighth with Oregon. Even before this dud, their players believed winning the conference tournament in Los Angeles that begins March 12 is their only way into the NCAAs.
“We just blew it. We could have passed up four teams with this game today,” Brockman said.
“Man, I wish I knew why we didn’t come to play.”
Senior Ryan Appleby scored 12 points in his final home game but was just 4-for-16. Many of his misses — 11 of them were on 3-pointers — doomed mini-rallies by Washington.
Freshman Rihards Kuksiks added a career-high-tying 15 points for ASU. Derek Glasser scored 12 — nine on 3-pointers in the second half.
Arizona State zipped to a 59-42 lead with 10:32 remaining when Kuksiks and Jerren Shipp made consecutive, wide-open 3-pointers. The swishing sound was both the net and Washington’s postseason chances getting flushed.
But the Huskies stayed afloat by scoring the next nine points, five by Justin Dentmon. Then Harden made a 3-pointer from the corner, punctuating it with double “OK” signs with his hands toward the arena’s ceiling.
“Just a sign to my people back home,” said Harden, a native of Los Angeles.
All was indeed OK again for the Sun Devils. Harden added a 3-point play and Glasser made a free throw for a 66-51 lead with 5½ minutes left.
Washington, the second-worst field-goal shooting team in the conference at 45 percent coming in, went seven minutes of the first half without a basket against Arizona State’s jumpy zone defense that challenged every pass on the wing. The Huskies missed 19 of their first 24 shots and shot just 27 percent in the opening period.