(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The AP 5th ranked UCLA Bruins travel to Tempe to face the Sun Devils for essentially a scrimmage in preparation for the main event Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats.
At least that is what most are leading you to believe.
Take a glance at any promotion or advertisement and you’ll soon be lead to think that there is no game happening on Thursday night. The Bruins are not playing the Sun Devils on their home court in a revenge match for ASU. The Bruins are not squaring up against a spiteful team dying for an upset, which is bound to occur soon enough because ASU has pulled off a top-20 upset three years counting. Why could it be that this game is being slept on?
Could it be because UCLA averages about 92 points per contest? Maybe it has to do with the fact that they boast three players who average over 15 points a game in TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford, and Lonzo Ball. Or possibly the reason is that they average around 10 treys a game.
If past history is any indication, then most have a reason to discard this game for that aspect as well. ASU has one victory in the past five matchups against the Bruins, but that pesky one upset per year stat has the Sun Devils antsy.
ASU, no slouch on the offensive end either, averages just under 80 points per game. ASU, also, boasts three players averaging over 15 points per game in Torian Graham, Tra Holder, and Shannon Evans II. They also happens to average nearly 10 threes per game as well. Sound similar?
Now, of course stats do not tell the whole story, as the first matchup between these teams revealed earlier on this season, in which UCLA romped ASU 102-80. In that contest, UCLA beat ASU at their own game, the perimeter competition. They drilled 16 threes en route to a blowout, lead by a somewhat surprising 33 points from Isaac Hamilton. Torian Graham lead the way for ASU with 26.
What stood out about that game is that the Sun Devils owned the offensive glass by a +6 margin, which is quite unbelievable considering UCLA possesses four bigs standing above 6’10’’, whom all play quality minutes (Leaf, Welsh, Anigbogu, and Goloman). On paper, that seems like a nightmare situation for Obinna Oleka in the paint.
Upon closer examination, Anigbogu and Goloman are the only true low-post threats. Leaf and Welsh both enjoy stepping outside to face-up; Welsh from the baseline midrange and Leaf straight on in most cases.
If UCLA decides to utilize their bigs in a heavier workload tonight, then the Sun Devils may be forced to play advanced minutes for Jethro Tshisumpa, Ramon Vila, and even Andre Adams, who was welcomed with a some minutes against Washington State last week. If UCLA head coach Steve Alford rolls with the post game, these inexperienced big men for ASU will be forced not only to step in on the defensive end, but will need an offensive uptick on the opposite side for any shot at competing.
On the other hand, if UCLA simply wants to outshoot the Devils, then the gunnin’ Bobby Hurley’s will have no problem taking part in a three-point competition, as then it simply comes down to a matter of converting.
The odds are stacked against the struggling Sun Devils, but if the stars align and Bill Walton works his voodoo magic on the broadcast, then possibly, ASU will pull off the stunner.
Catch all the action on ESPN2 starting at 7PM Arizona time.