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ASU Men’s Basketball: Sun Devils fail to convert easy opportunities in loss to UCLA

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

 

Things were looking up for Arizona State. It was coming off a two-game winning streak including a nice win over No. 23 USC and had shot 14-of-28 (50) percent in its win over No. 23 USC. ASU followed that with another hot start and shot 13-of-28 (46.4 percent) from the field and 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from three.

However, the offensive flow came to a sudden halt, and double-digit efforts from juniors Obi Oleka and Andre Spight weren’t enough as ASU fell to UCLA 78-65. The loss ended ASU’s two-game winning streak.

“Really felt like we were on the verge of something after Friday night, and like has happened most of this year, there’s progress, and there’s regression, and we regressed again tonight,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said.

The Sun Devils started the night 1-of-6 from the field but proceeded to hit four of its next six shots to remain close to UCLA early. Sophomore Kodi Justice was able to hit Spight in the with a difficult wrap-around pass from under the basket for a corner three, Spight’s second of the night but certainly not his last.

Spight and Justice led ASU’s three-point barrage and shot a combined 5-of-7 from range in the first half. The Bruins shot a solid 16-of-33 (48.5 percent) in the first half, led by junior guard Bryce Alford’s nine points and six assists in the first half.

At the half, the game seemed poised for a competitive finish down the stretch, but that wasn’t to be as ASU came out and suffered a three-and-a-half minute scoring drought that allowed UCLA to comfortably take the lead.

“We were missing wide-open shots (and) easy layups,” Justice said. “And then the next thing you know, we’re down 13 trying to battle back, and they’re a good team.”

Spight drilled three free throws to get ASU within five points with 8:58 remaining, but that was the closest ASU would get for the rest of the game. UCLA countered with a 13-3 run that all but sealed the deal for the Bruins.

“Anytime we had a sniff of getting the game in a close margin, we refused to make free throws, or layups or open threes,” Hurley said. “It was a problem with our offense. Now, our defense was not that good either. As our offense started to suffer, our defense – especially in the lane – was a big problem.”

Once again, Oleka poured in another active stat line, tallying his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Although Spight played his best game as a Sun Devil (21 points), including drawing three fouls on three-point jump shots, it wasn’t nearly enough to combat the rest of the team’s struggles, particularly from point-blank and the foul line.

ASU shot just 19-of-48 (39.6 percent) on two-point field goals and free throws.

“If we made more layups, then you wouldn’t see us shoot as many threes,” Hurley said. “But when you see us miss the volume of layups that we missed during the game, then you can understand why we say, ‘Hey. I’m going to let these guys shoot a few more threes during the course of a game.’”

Sophomore guard Tra Holder particularly struggled, accounting for just five points, two assists and two turnovers.

“I thought the key was we did a nice job on Holder,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. “I think he’s really good, and we did a nice job of controlling him.”

On the other hand, UCLA junior guard Bryce Alford was limited to 10 points, but contributed 11 assists, seven rebounds and did not turn the ball over once.

“That’s a big-time performance,” Hurley said. “That’s what guys do that are some of the better players in the conference.”

The Bruins were paced by sophomore forward Jonah Bolden’s 16 points and nine rebounds, and senior forward Tony Parker’s eight points came in dominant fashion in the low-post.

UCLA freshman guard Prince Ali had one of his better games of the season, racking up 12 points, well above his season average of 2.7 points per game in Pac-12 play.

“In games like this in this conference, you need players to do something more than they usually do,” Hurley said. “We were kind of the opposite in that regard.”

A win against UCLA would have vaulted ASU out of the 11th place spot at which it has spent much of conference play, but instead, the Sun Devils remain second-to-last in the Pac-12 with a trip down to Tucson looming.

“It’s really frustrating because it feels like we can get our season back,” Justice said. “We have this confidence going and we’re looking, we’re almost .500, we could move in the middle of the Pac. And we’re right there, and this could be a big game to set up for Wednesday, and it just felt like we kind of let ourselves down for a big game on Wednesday.”

You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at zacpacleb@gmail.com

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