That was quite the determined bunch of UCLA Bruins on the Pauley Pavilion floor on Wednesday night.
Facing an underrated but very good Arizona State Sun Devil team that tore through the Bruins in Tempe, UCLA played with a desperation and showed something that not many folks have described this team with this season – character – as they overcame a halftime deficit and blowing a five-point lead in the game’s last two minutes to beat ASU in overtime, 79-74, tying Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 Conference in the process.
9,305 Bruin fans – a very good crowd considering that it was a late game on a weeknight – saw Ben Howland’s squad fight Arizona State tooth and nail throughout the contest as they were once again without Travis Wear, who was nursing a sprained foot, and had to do with a rotation of just seven players. They showed a lot of heart as they fought back from a 23-14 deficit in the first half and didn’t give up when Arizona State cam back to force overtime.
Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, and Kyle Anderson are not exactly ”young children”, to paraphrase the Biblical quote about how “…a young child shall lead them,” but they are true freshmen who were playing for their high schools at this time last year; to say that they stepped up huge and came through against the Sun Devils (20-9, 9-7 in the Pac-12) would be an understatement as they each scored over 20 points. Muhammad and Adams, who scored seven of UCLA’s nine points in OT, had 21 while Anderson, who also led the Bruins with 15 rebounds, tied ASU’s Jahii Carson for high scorer honors with 22.
Tony Parker only made one of his two shot attempts, and almost fouled out, but his ten minutes were most valuable as he provided a badly needed inside presence.
David Wear, by all standards, had a bad shooting night as he made only four of 13 shots for eight points, but his seven boards were a big contribution.
The Bruins’ sense of urgency showed in the post-game comments, Muhammad saying as much as he added, “We’re right there with Oregon and Arizona (more on those Wildcats in a bit)…we do what we have to do and we’re going to be in first place.”
At 11-4 in the conference and 21-7 overall, UCLA is one of four teams at the top of the Pac-12 within a game of each other. If they finish among those top four squads, they will be given a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, meaning that rather than having to play four games in four days to win the tourney, they would only have to play a maximum of three games in three days.
Which makes a enormous difference when one factors in the players’ stamina needed and potential of fatigue; the more rest teams get in a short tournament, the better.
With the Bruins taking care of business against the so-called “other college basketball team” in the Grand Canyon state, a showdown looms on Saturday against an Arizona Wildcat team that’s ranked 11th in the country and, having come off a big upset loss to USC, which left them a half-game out of first place, will be looking to take their frustrations out on UCLA as well as get revenge for the Bruins’ 84-73 win in Tucson.
This game is so big, ESPN’s “College Game Day” will be broadcasting its weekly show from Pauley Pavilion on Saturday morning, with Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, and Jalen Rose setting up on Pauley’s floor and taking about the happenings in college hoops for that day as well as (I’m sure) marvel over the new Pauley.
Students will be arriving at 5:00 in the morning to get seats in Pauley for the telecast. Anyone who wants to join in on the fun can check UCLA’s website, www.UCLABruins.com, for details.
It will be a great way to get Bruin Nation ready for the last home game of the season, which will determine first place in the conference.
Arizona Wildcats, Pauley Pavilion – Saturday, March 2, 6:00 p.m.
COLLEGE GAME DAY TELECAST FROM PAULEY PAVILION:
Saturday, March 2, 7:00 a.m., ESPN