Before top-seeded UCLA’s quarterfinal game with the 9th-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils in the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday afternoon I, and the rest of Bruin Nation I’m sure, were wondering which Bruin team – the one that swept Arizona, beat then-top ten Missouri, won ten straight games at one point and the regular season conference crown or the one who lost to such teams as Cal Poly, USC and Washington State – would show up for this rubber match against a tough ASU squad, who split two games with UCLA in the regular season and who I had picked as a dark horse in this conference tourney, capable of making a big run.
By the end of the battle, it became crystal clear that both UCLA teams were present as Arizona State was beating the Bruins from pillar to post all day long, building a nine-point halftime lead and eventually stretching UCLA’s deficit to 15 in the second half.
The Bruin team that won the Pac-12 title with much heart, character and guts showed up with eight minutes left in the game as, with the help of Larry Drew II and Shabazz Muhammad, erased that 15-point deficit in the most spectacular of ways and used two free throws by David Wear, who entered the game with less than a second left when Muhammad fouled out and had to take his charity shots, to complete the comeback and knock out the Sun Devils, 80-75.
For the first time in a long while, the Bruins actually outrebounded their opponents as they beat ASU on the boards, 35-30. They also outperformed Arizona State in a crucial department – offensive rebounding – as they outdid the Sun Devils in that area 12-7.
Which was a huge key as ASU’s Jordan Bachynski made mincemeat of Ben Howland’s team with his 22 points, while Jahii Carson scored 21.
Muhammad’s nine rebounds (to go along with his 16 points) were a huge part of the Bruin triumph, as he looked the part of a leader who would not let his team lose. The same can be said for Drew as the point guard was 8-for-10 from the floor, including making all four of his three-point attempts, to lead UCLA with 20 points.
The Wear twins, Travis and David, stepped up as well with Travis getting 15 points and six boards, while his brother David’s 7 out of 8 free throws – scoring 11 points overall – were absolutely clutch.
If these Bruins are not careful, people will begin to call them “The Cardiac Kids” because of the way they often fall behind and get outplayed at the outset of games only to come roaring back in the end.
This cardiac approach is not recommended for the rest of this post-season, starting with the semi-finals on Friday when UCLA plays either 4th-seeded Arizona or 5th-seeded Colorado.
Will the Bruins learn their lesson and not go so long before waking up?
By Friday night at around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., we’ll find out that answer.
Friday, March 15th – MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV, 6:00 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network