(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
When the No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils (25-4, 16-1 Pac-12) travel to Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles to take on the No. 14 UCLA Bruins (21-7, 13-4 Pac-12), they’ll be playing one of the most important games not only of their season, but possibly in program history.
Only a couple hours after ASU secured a 50-45 victory over USC on Friday night, the Sun Devils got a little help from their rivals in the Bay Area.
Stanford was able to defeat Oregon State in convincing fashion, thus breaking the tie atop the Pac-12 rankings and securing at least a share of the regular season conference title for ASU.
Although they’re already guaranteed to be co-champions of the Pac-12, a victory over the Bruins on Sunday would clinch their first outright conference championship in the history of the Sun Devil women’s basketball program.
With such a big honor on the line, the Sun Devils are sure to come be locked in and ready to play, but UCLA certainly won’t make it easy.
The Bruins have had an extremely successful season so far, moving from being the WNIT champion a season ago to becoming one of the top-15 teams in the nation.
Their most recent game was a dominating 80-53 win over Arizona. Six different Bruins scored in double-digits in what was a well-rounded victory.
In the last matchup between these two teams, senior guard Katie Hempen’s 20 points led ASU to a 65-61 victory over UCLA in Tempe.
Keys to the Game:
Take care of the ball
Against USC, the Sun Devils looked absolutely sloppy on the offensive end. They turned the ball over 23 times, allowing USC to stay in the game. In similar fashion, the Sun Devils allowed UCLA to stay in game by turning the ball over 18 times. On the road, it will be tough for ASU to compete on the road if they’re sloppy with the ball, so the Sun Devils, especially senior point guard Elisha Davis, will need to be careful with the ball.
Get a hand up
This season, ASU is holding opponents to 53 points per game, good for second best in the conference. UCLA was able to score 61 against the Sun Devils in their last matchup and currently have the top scoring offense in the conference at just over 75 points per game. The Sun Devils will need to exhibit their typical tenacity on defense if they want to get a win.
Cut out the long ball
In their game against Arizona, UCLA shot a blistering 54.5 percent from long range, way up from their season average of 33.8 percent. Fortunately for ASU, its three-point defense has been stellar this season. The Sun Devils only allow opponents to shoot an average of 29.5 percent from beyond the arc this year. ASU will need to shut down Bruin sharpshooters like Kari Korver and Nirra Fields to give themselves an advantage.
The X-Factor in this game is Katie Hempen. Just as she did the last time these two teams faced off, Hempen will need to catch fire to match the offensive pace of UCLA. The Bruins are not known for their defensive presence, so Hempen should be able to find plenty of open looks to help bolster ASU’s attack.
Pauley Pavilion is never an easy place to get a win and this UCLA squad has about as much talent as any team in the Pac-12, but this ASU team is hitting its stride at the right time. The Sun Devils have won seven straight games and are playing for their first ever outright Pac-12 title, so it’s tough to see an upset happening. ASU will grind out another close win over UCLA, thus securing a Pac-12 regular season championship and the 1-seed in the Pac-12 tournament next week.