The UCLA Bruins (21-7, 11-4 Pac-12) needed five extra minutes to get it done, but ultimately took care of business against Arizona State (20-9, 9-7), winning in overtime, 79-74, on Wednesday night.
It was a physical battle from start to finish, as the Bruins were looking for vengeance and the Sun Devils were fighting for their tournament lives.
The game was grinding and defensive, and the officials held their whistles on a number of occasions (for both teams). The end result was a combined 27 turnovers, 15 blocks and 33 personal fouls.
Larry Drew II seemed to suffer the most from the erratic nature of the game. The redshirt senior was uncharacteristically free with the ball, committing seven turnovers on the night. LD II has been the definition of poised this year, but he was clearly flustered by the Devils’ active defense down the stretch.
But in spite of the sloppy play, UCLA and ASU were both surprisingly efficient on offense, so the fans at Pauley were treated to an action-packed, back-and-forth affair.
The Bruins held the slight advantage in shooting, finishing with a healthy 42.4 percent mark., including 36.4 percent from long range. But the Sun Devils kept pace for the most part, making 40.3 percent of their shots to keep it competitive throughout.
The Bruins were led offensively by their fabulous freshmen, as Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson went off for 64 points in the contest.
Adams shot a blistering 50 percent on 7-of-14 from the floor, and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line to round out his clutch performance. With 22 points, Adams tied with Sun Devil PG Jahii Carson for the game-high in scoring.
But when you take a closer look at the stat sheet, it’s clear that Anderson was the most important Bruin on the court on Wednesday. Not only did the 6’7″ freshman drop 21 points, he also wrangled 15 rebounds, notched four blocks and was 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
Anderson gave UCLA the inside presence and scoring ability it needed to overcome Arizona State’s significant size advantage. In the meeting in Tempe last month, the Sun Devils completely ravaged the Bruins on the boards, ending up with a 20-rebound edge (49-29) in their 78-60 win.
ASU once again outrebounded UCLA tonight, but Ben Howland has to be pleased with a four-board deficit (44-40) compared to what happened last time. Anderson’s contribution to the game goes well beyond grabbing a few rebounds, but his determination to get the loose ball was key to the Bruins’ success in the rematch.
The win propelled UCLA back into a first-place tie with Oregon (22-6, 11-4) atop the Pac-12 standings. It also gave the Bruins a very real shot at the regular season conference title with three games to play. The Ducks hold the tiebreaker, so they do control their own destiny, but just one more slip up could cost them.
UCLA will need to win out to stay alive, and the next obstacle is No. 11 Arizona on Saturday. In typical college fashion, that game has taken on a whole new meaning thanks to another untimely upset. The Wildcats were absolutely blindsided by the confusingly inconsistent USC Trojans at the Galen Center tonight, losing by a final score of 89-78.
The stunning defeat made Arizona a long shot for the Pac-12 title, and could even put the Cats’ top-four Pac-12 Tourney seeding at risk. Needless to say, Zona learned the hard way what happens when you look past the gutty little Trojans.
When these teams met in Tucson, UCLA got out to a hot start and never let up, silencing the white-out crowd at the McKale Center with an 11-point victory. Part 2 of the season series should be another great game, especially now that the Wildcats have gotten their wake-up call. Tip is slated for 6 PM PST and the game will be broadcast nationally by the ESPN College GameDay crew.