So close. So close to a much-needed win over a solid UCLA team. But it wasn't to be for ASU Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo.
The Sun Devils shrugged aside a 19-point first half (20 percent from the field) and a 15-point deficit right out of the gate to start the second half and forced overtime. They chipped away, helped by good defense, some iffy UCLA decisions and missed free throws and some CPR on the Devils' shooting.
And when Trent Lockett flew in for a putback of Jordan Bachynski's missed free throw with 23 seconds left in regulation time, it felt like the Devils could really win. The crowd of 7,086 was roaring and on its feet as the Devils got it to OT. But the Bruins grabbed a seven-point lead, and it was too much for ASU to overcome in its 73-72 loss.
The Sun Devils were two different teams in each half. They were creamed on the boards, 24-14 (19-8 defensive) in the first half and made only 6 of 30 shots. They were repeatedly denied shots on the inside against UCLA's sizable big men, especially 6-10, 305-pound freshman Joshua Smith, who changed at least as many shots as he swatted. Down 32-19 to start the second half, the Devils got going.
They hit their first seven shots of the second half yet still trailed by eight with 13 minutes left. Down 12 at the 10-minute mark, Bachynski slammed back-to-back dunks to cut the lead to eight. A three-ball by Rihards Kuksiks cut the UCLA lead to three, and although the Bruins went up eight with 3:05 left after a pair of free throws, ASU didn't give up.
Ty Abbott, saddled with foul trouble that limited his minutes to 24 for the game, hit a long three to make it 59-58 UCLA with 59 seconds left in regulation. After two Bruin free throws, Bachynski (in what might have been his best clutch performance of the season) went to the line and made the first free throw with 23 seconds left. He missed the second, and in swooped Lockett, who finished with 18 points.
In the end, it wasn't to be for the Devils, who lost their seventh straight Pac-10 game and are buried at the bottom of the league standings at 1-8, 9-12 overall.
"They say these kinds of games break even over time, but ultimately you have to make the plays to win the game on both ends of the floor," coach Herb Sendek said. "We made some really good plays, but we didn’t make enough of them to win tonight. The film will tell the truth; at first glance I don’t think we were as good today. But there are two sides to every story. They (the Bruins) are really a hard team to check."
Five Bruins scored in double figures, including guard Lazeric Jones, who had 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Reeves Nelson (15 points, 12 boards) and flu-bug bitten Tyler Honeycutt (12, 10) had double-doubles.
The Sun Devils 15 points from Kuksiks, whom UCLA coach Ben Howland labeled "Kukoc" (as in Toni, the former Chicago Bull) after the game. Certainly an accident, didn't really think he was comparing Kuksiks to Kukoc.
The Devils' second half was encouraging: 57 percent shooting in regulation, and they only lost the rebounding battle by four (42-38) for the game.
But the losing stings. Just ask Jamelle McMillan, who scored 13 points, all in the second half:
"It’s obviously encouraging that we have a team that can fight back and get back into a game and give ourselves a chance. But at this point the wins and the losses... it’s the same story and it has been the same story for about a month now. We have to find a way to make the plays late."