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January 29, 2011Arizona State might not yet be over the proverbial hump, but the summit appears near.
It's taken a long time to bring it into focus and there may still be some work ahead to get there, but painful as it's been, the Sun Devils have trekked onward.
Saturday, the team fought back from a 15-point deficit to force overtime against UCLA before faltering in the extra period, losing 73-72 in front of 7,086 at Wells Fargo Arena.
The loss dropped ASU to 9-12 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-10 while UCLA improved to 14-7, 6-3.
"It's the same story, and it's been the same story for about a month now," senior guard Jamelle McMillan said. "We got to find a way to make plays late."
McMillan didn't have a chance to.
After making three 3-pointers and scoring all 13 of his points in the second half to cut into a 13-point intermission deficit, McMillan fouled out with 32 seconds remaining and ASU trailing 59-58.
Officials didn't see McMillan and all three of ASU's coaches shouting for a timeout following senior Ty Abbott's 3-pointer which made it a 1-point game and immediately after that, McMillan was gone.
The Sun Devils used a put-back tip in by sophomore Trent Lockett on a missed free throw by freshman Jordan Bachynski to force overtime, but the Bruins hit three of their first four 3-point attempts of the extra period after going to 0-of-8 from the distance in the second half.
ASU coach Herb Sendek called on sophomore walk-on Marcus Jackson to replace McMillan for the final half minute of regulation. It was Jackson's first appearance and Jackson began the overtime on the floor only to see the Bruins get hot from the outside due in part to what Sendek termed defensive rotation breakdowns.
"Defensively, we just didn't do what needs to be done," Sendek said.
Due to their hot shooting, the Bruins opened a 70-63 overtime lead at the 2:58 mark, but the Sun Devils responded again, fighting back with two Lockett layups. Freshman Keala King then drove for what would have been a game-tying layup, but classmate Kyle Cain was called for offensive goaltending effectively ending ASU's hopes.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "They fought back. Herb (Sendek) does a great job. Their guys never quit; they kept fighting back. I think we were up 13 at the half and they came back against us."
Lazeric Jones led UCLA with 18 points and hit the team's only two 3-pointers prior to the overtime period and had another in the extra period. Reeves Nelson had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Tyler Honeycutt had 12 points and 12 rebounds while playing sick.
After making just 6-of-30 field goal attempts and scoring a season-low 19 points in the first half, ASU made its first seven field goals to start the second half -- including eight quick points by McMillan -- and rebounded the ball much better to force overtime, but just couldn't cover it into a win.
Lockett had 17 points for the Sun Devils on 20 shots while junior Rihards Kuksiks had 15 points.
Free throw shooting, a problem throughout the season, again could have been the difference. Bachynski gave ASU some solid minutes and looks increasingly comfortable on the floor but hit only 3-of-8 from the line.
"They say these kind of games break even over time," Sendek said. "But ultimately, you have to make plays to win the game on both ends of the floor. We made some really good plays. We just didn't make enough."