UCLA kicked things off in Vegas in style, exploding down the stretch to rally back from 15 down and stun Arizona State in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. The 80-75 come-from-behind thriller gives the Bruins a spot in tomorrow’s semifinal round, but likely sends the Sun Devils to the NIT with an overall record of 21-12.
Both point guards were outstanding in the season-series rubber match, as Jahii Carson racked up 21 points and seven assists for ASU, and Larry Drew II was on fire for UCLA, draining 8-of-10 shots for 20 points.
Drew II, the lone senior on the Bruins’ young, talent-laden roster, swished a pair of crucial three-pointers during UCLA’s late-game run to carry his team to the finish. It was a gutty effort from Drew, who continues to add to his short, yet impressive legacy with the program.
However, as exciting as the win was for UCLA, a sluggish first 30 minutes will certainly bring out the doubters as things heat up this weekend.
The Bruins continued a troubling trend of starting out slow, falling behind by as many as 13 points in the first half. Poor shooting and a lack of interior defense plagued them early, as Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson struggled severely to find the hoop.
The two freshmen combined for 15 points on 4-of-19 shooting, including an uncharacteristically inefficient 2-of-6 from deep for Adams. The dual disappearing act is a harsh reminder to the Bruin faithful what it means to have an offense dominated by freshmen. Had it not been for Drew’s consistency throughout the game, UCLA would have been the latest victim of an upset-crazy season.
But why so much negativity?
The Bruins came out on top after all, and they showed a great level of maturity and poise in doing so. Arizona State was on a mission, and Carson has been playing like a man possessed, and still UCLA found a way to win. That’s what March is all about, and that’s the kind of swagger that can fuel a furious run through the month.
Looking ahead, the Bruins will take on No. 18 Arizona tomorrow night in the semifinals of the conference tourney. The Wildcats earned their place by holding off the feisty Colorado Buffaloes, 79-69, in the second game of the quarters. Sophomore guard Nick Johnson sparked the Cats to victory, tallying 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
The meeting will be the third of the season between the squads, with UCLA winning both regular season games. The Bruins blasted Zona in Tucson in January, before grinding out a tough win at Pauley Pavilion two weeks ago. If Ben Howland can make it 3-0 versus the Wildcats this year, UCLA would not only punch a ticket to the Pac-12 finals, but be on pace for at worst a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tourney.
Suffice it to say, the stakes couldn’t be higher for tomorrow’s Sin City showdown.
Just win Bruins!