February 29, 2008

ASU served another lopsided loss by UCLA

It will be difficult for the ASU basketball team to fall harder than it did when it lost 81-54 versus UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in late January.

But the Sun Devils almost did so the second time they faced the Bruins with a 70-49 loss at Wells Fargo Arena Thursday night.

"They're a great team, they played real well tonight," freshman guard James Harden said. "We just didn't execute our stuff, but hats off to them."

ASU (17-10, 7-8 Pac-10) was outmatched by No. 4 UCLA (25-3, 13-2) in almost every statistical category.

The Bruins out-rebounded the Sun Devils by 14, they had seven more assists, they shot the ball better by almost 10 percent from the field and they only missed one free throw.

"[UCLA] hit their shots once again tonight," sophomore point guard Derek Glasser said. " They're tough to beat already, but when they hit 50 percent from three, it's almost impossible."

Despite the final score, ASU did have its chances in a first half that was marked by staunch defense from both teams - the score was only 9-9 nearly 12 minutes into the game.

The Sun Devils played UCLA strong initially, but a 5-point swing in the Bruins favor with less than two minutes remaining until halftime proved to be the dagger in any chance of an upset.

"We had some opportunities that we didn't cash in on," coach Herb Sendek said. "Unfortunately they opened it up with that run right at the end of the half."

When the Bruins' run began, ASU was only trailing by five, the crowd was into the game, and the Sun Devils seemed to be picking up some momentum.

Ty Abbott stole the ball with 1:11 left, which led to a 3-on-1 fast break with two other freshmen, Jamelle McMillan and James Harden. Abbott then tipped the ball ahead to McMillan who passed it to Harden on the wing. Harden leaped for a dunk from well out onto the floor, but hit the back of the rim and the long rebound ended up in UCLA hands. The ball was passed ahead to Josh Shipp, brother of ASU's Jerren Shipp, who drilled a three, extending the lead to eight and effectively killing all of ASU's chances.

"That was a key play, I should have finished the bucket," said Harden, who finished the game with 11 points, tying Rihards Kuksiks for team-high honors. "It was a big swing in the game."

The half ended with Harden having a 3-footer blocked with five seconds remaining and UCLA's Darren Collison drilling a three at the buzzer to give the Bruins an 11-point lead at the break.

And the Bruins didn't stop there. They went on to extend the lead to 17 just two minutes into the second half.

"They came off [of halftime] the way we should have come off," Harden said. "They came off with the energy like they wanted it more than us."

Leading the way for the Bruins was Collison who seemingly could not miss from beyond the arc. He finished the game 5-of-6 from beyond the arc en route to a 17-point performance.

And down low, it was UCLA's freshman sensation Kevin Love who owned the paint.

Love recorded his 17th double-double of the year with a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds.

And defensively, Love, along with whoever came over for the consistent double-team, was able to hold Jeff Pendergraph in check, limiting ASU's big man to just five points and three rebounds.

Pendergraph also committed six turnovers

"It wasn't one of [Pendergraph's] best games," Sendek said. "And obviously it's very important for our team that he be at his typical high level."

The guess is that with the loss, the Sun Devils will now probably need to win two of their final three games to have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament - and it won't be easy.

Up next for ASU is the early (4:00 p.m.) game on Saturday against USC, and the Sun Devils haven't had recent success in the late-Thursday, early-Saturday scenario.

Just two weeks ago ASU came out flat and lost to Cal on Saturday after a late Thursday game with Stanford.

This time around will have to be different or else the Sun Devils will have to sweep on the road in Oregon to get to .500 in Pac-10 play at the end of the regular season.

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