UCLA Basketball: Bruins Will Face Arizona State in Pac-12 Tourney Quarters


Jahii Carson (1), Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After Stanford forced an improbable overtime session, Arizona State staved off elimination by closing out the first game of the 2013 Pac-12 Basketball Tournament, 89-88. The win kept the Devils’ slim NCAA Tourney hopes alive and earned them a ticket to do battle with UCLA in the quarterfinals tomorrow.

The No. 9-seed Sun Devils (21-11, 9-9 Pac-12) were scorching from long range, connecting on 11-of-22 attempts from deep, while posting a 48.5 percent mark from the field overall. ASU PG Jahii Carson had a career-high 34 points on 14-of-22 shooting, willing the Devils to victory and validating his selection as conference Co-Freshman of the Year. Jonathan Gilling and Carrick Felix also brought their ‘A’ games against the Cardinal, combining to go 7-for-11 from behind the arc en route to 33 total points.

This game was the definition of an offensive clinic, as neither team could string together defensive stops, and the result was a high-octane, slugfest from start to finish. Stanford was also hovering around 50 percent from 3-point land all afternoon, but ended up just short at 45.5 percent (15-of-33). In total, the Card (18-14, 9-9 Pac-12) shot 46.2 percent and had four players in double figures, headlined by 27 points from Aaron Bright.

But in spite of the offensive skills on display, the most impressive statistics came from elsewhere on the floor.

First off, Stanford only attempted one free throw the entire game, and that came within the last minute of regulation. Arizona State actually committed 13 personal fouls, but only granted the Cardinal one trip to the charity stripe. That’s about as clean a basketball game you’ll see at the college level, and it made all the difference for the Devils. If they can carry that over into their 12 PM tip with the Bruins tomorrow, it will be war for the first semifinal slot.

Carrick Felix (0) shoots against Stanford Cardinal forward Josh Huestis (24), Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

From the other bench, Stanford was doing everything within its power to keep it close, starting down low in the shot-blocking department. The Cardinal notched eight blocks in the game, led by Josh Huestis‘ new Pac-12 Tourney single-game record of six swats. Had it not been for Huestis and the Card’s inside presence, this already explosive affair could have been one for the ages.

In the end, it was the Sun Devils that lived up to the bright lights of Las Vegas, tipping the scales in their favor with the extra effort and a driving desire to succeed

From UCLA’s perspective, there are two ways to look at the game’s gaudy box score.

On the one hand, ASU could be worn down, both physically and emotionally, from an intense, 45-minute struggle. Surviving a back-and-forth game like this can be really draining. So it makes you wonder, what will the Devils have left in the tank?

But then again, this is March. Nothing is better than a head of steam in a conference tourney, and a hard-fought win can be the catalyst to bigger things. Arizona State’s confidence has to be through the roof at this point, and they have the weapons to make some noise. If Carson is feeling clutch tomorrow, it could spell disaster for the Bruins.

When ASU and UCLA tip off, it will be the third meeting of the season between the squads. And because both teams came out victorious in their respective arenas, this is the ultimate, neutral-site rubber match.

In the first meeting of 2013, the Sun Devils shocked the Bruins in Tempe, Ariz. on the back of Jordan Bachynski. The 7’2″ center scored 22 points and corralled 15 rebounds, both career highs, to lead ASU to an easy 78-60 win. UCLA looked overmatched in every facet in that game, and it still sticks out as one of the most disappointing outings of the year.

And then came redemption in the rematch. In Los Angeles, the Bruins defended home court at Pauley Pavilion by squeaking out a 79-74 OT triumph. UCLA’s talented trio of freshmen carried the torch in that one, as Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams each eclipsed the 20-point threshold. Nonetheless, the Sun Devils still lead by as many as nine points at time in that game, and were a few bounces away from sweeping the season series.

With that said, it’s important to note that UCLA starting forward Travis Wear, the team’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, sat out both of the Arizona State games due to injury. All reports indicate that he is healthy for the Pac-12 Tournament, and his big body should provide some answers for Bachynski and the ASU bigs in the paint.

It won’t be easy. It may be ugly. And it will most certainly be nerve-racking. But if the Bruins can take the floor focused and dedicated to defensive intensity, they have a great chance to drop the Devils and survive another day in the wild, win-or-go-home madness of March.