Ben Howland’s boys have won four of their last five and will look to give the Sun Devils a little payback after the first meeting between the two went ASU’s way. After falling to USC at home in January, UCLA returned the favor when they traveled across town and pummeled the Trojans, 75-59 behind Jordan Adams’ 20 points and a monster first half in which the Bruins jumped out a 21-point lead at the break.
Lorenzo Romar owns ASU and that was on display once again when Washington came in and ruined Senior Night winning 68-59 in a game that the Huskies would just not relinquish no matter what the Devils threw their way. Scott Suggs scored 16 points including a fatal three-pointer with 34 seconds remaining. Jahii Carson, Evan Gordon and Ruslan Pateev all scored 10 points to lead the way in the loss. Each team shot over 47% but the Huskies dominated the glass with a +14 rebounding margin.
When these teams first met, Arizona State tattooed UCLA, 78-60, and there was no stopping them. Jordan Bachynski and Carrick Felix combined for 45 points and 26 rebounds as the Sun Devils completely mopped up the Bruins in the paint in a game that was cemented when Felix swatted Jordan Adams in garbage time that gave ASU an identity that had been missing for a few years. Adams had 19 to lead UCLA.
Before the season began, just about anyone in the college basketball world would have laughed if you told them the ASU fan base was frustrated at the end of February because this team has only 20 wins but that is the nature of the beast. Feasting on inferior opponents and playing good basketball spotted the Sun Devils a comfy record and a bright road to the NCAA Tournament but that road is all but closed as it currently stands. With very few notable victories and some head-scratching losses, Herb Sendek and his squad are on the outside looking in if the NCAA Tournament began today. That can all change with some upsets on the road and an extended weekend in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament but that all starts with UCLA on Wednesday night.
Ben Howland: 10th season at UCLA – 228-104; 396-203 career
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 118-103; 372-260 career
G – Larry Drew (7.1 PPG, 7.6 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.5 PPG, 5.0 APG)
G – Jordan Adams (15.1 PPG, 32% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (11.0 PPG, 37% 3PT)
F – Shabazz Muhammad (18.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG)
F – Kyle Anderson (9.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
F – Travis Wear (11.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.4 PPG, 3.7 BPG)
Why UCLA Can Win:
If recruiting rankings won basketball games, UCLA would be a top-5 squad. The extraordinary frosh trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson account for 56% of the scoring and all three players can take control of a game at anytime. Larry Drew II is one of the better floor generals in the conference and one of the nation’s finest passers but he is most dangerous when he can score the ball as well. Travis Wear’s absence cannot be understated as the Bruins will struggle underneath if he is once again out. David Wear was ice-cold in the first meeting and he will need to play much better on both ends in this one if his twin is out.
Why ASU Can Win:
There is a chance that Travis Wear will miss this game and that would open the door to possible repeat of the beat down in January. While that is unlikely given the direction of these two teams, ASU outrebounded UCLA by a 49-29 margin in the first meeting and there is no doubt that Herb Sendek will look to pound it inside once again. ASU played its most complete game against UCLA with all five starters making major contributions but the road has been a different beast and Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix will need to lead the team through the grind. If the inside game goes quiet, Jon Gilling and Evan Gordon will need to shoot the Rock Well in order to give the team balance. Chris Colvin and Ruslan Pateev have been impactful in their minutes and that will need to continue as this game is as important as any in the last three years of Sun Devil basketball.
Key Stat: From ASU’s SID department, Jordan Bachynski is not just blocking a lot of shots; he is also keeping the ball in play. Of his 104 blocks, 65 have resulted in possession for ASU. He has 165 career blocks and the Sun Devil career record is 191, held by Mario Bennett from 1991-95. He needs just 12 blocks to set the Pac-12 season record.
X-Factor: Urgency; 20 wins means nothing and the nine Pac-12 wins to date means nothing. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is a fickle bunch and they will not be impressed by anything this team has done to date. Sweeping UCLA is priority #1. Sweeping USC is #2. Beating Arizona will go a very long way. Playing on Sunday in the Pac-12 Tournament might do the trick. This team had no expectations coming into this season but they have their backs against the wall as February turns to March. Herb Sendek deserves a lot of credit for the surprising success this season but his seat will stay pretty warm if the Sun Devils are not in the field of 68.
Final Score: UCLA 72 ASU 66