(Photo: Eliav Gabay/WCSN)
After a tough loss to rival Arizona, ASU faces an even tougher test as they square up against number 3 ranked UCLA on the road.
With a few extremely talented freshmen, UCLA (18-1) has managed to reclaim its place amongst the elite college basketball programs in the country.
The Bruins have won five in a row after losing their Pac-12 opener to eleventh ranked Oregon on the road, and in their last game managed to eek out a one-point victory over Utah.
The difference for UCLA this year is the stellar play of freshman guard Lonzo Ball and freshman forward TJ Leaf.
Ball has been ridiculously effective as a floor general for UCLA and is second in the country with 8.1 assists per game. He is also adding in 14.6 points per game on 52 percent shooting.
Ball is knocking down threes at a reliable clip, hitting almost three per game on 43 percent shooting, but consistently making the big shots when he needs to.
Leaf has been leading the way for the Bruins big men all season, despite his inexperience at the college level. He is second in scoring at 16.8 points per game and is leading the team in rebounds at 8.9 per game.
Leaf has been incredibly efficient on the offensive end, hitting over 64 percent of his shots from the field and hitting 51 percent of his threes.
The performance of those two freshmen, along with the play of seniors Bryce Alford (17.8 points per game) and Isaac Hamilton (14.1 points per game) have resulted in the highest scoring offense in the nation at 95.1 points per game.
The Bruins also really know how to spread the ball around, leading the country with 22.1 total assists per game. They boast the nation’s best effective field goal percentage at 61.7 percent as well.
Beating a team this good would be a huge challenge for a struggling ASU (9-9) squad that has started its Pac-12 slate at an underwhelming 2-3.
The Sun Devils defense is not nearly strong enough to hold back an offense like the Bruins possess, but UCLA doesn’t have a stellar defense either.
ASU senior forward Obinna Oleka should have more of an advantage in the paint than he has in previous games, due to UCLA’s lack of physicality down low, despite the size of Leaf, Thomas Welsh, and other big men. Shannon Evans, Tra Holder, and Torian Graham should be able to find success driving to the basket and using their shooting ability to space out the floor.
If the Sun Devils can have an explosive offensive night, they just might have a puncher’s chance of pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
The game starts at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports One.