(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
In their first game since losing their 15-game winning streak to Oregon State, the No. 8 Arizona State Sun Devils will return home to take on the No. 10 UCLA Bruins in Tempe on Friday.
ASU (18-4, 9-1 Pac-12) suffered a brutal loss at the hands of OSU last Sunday, ending their program-best winning streak and allowing the Beavers to claim a tie for the top spot in the Pac-12.
OSU dominated every aspect of that game, handling the Sun Devils relatively easily and handing them their first loss since December 5, but ASU will look to bounce back against UCLA.
The Bruins (16-5, 8-2) have experience a sort of basketball renaissance occur in their program over the past few seasons. After locking down the top recruiting class in the nation two years ago and winning the WNIT last season, UCLA’s efforts are finally culminating into success in the conference.
UCLA has scored impressive 20-point victories over perennial conference championship contenders Stanford and Oregon State, but have been a been inconsistent as well, dropping games to USC and Washington while squeaking out close wins over lackluster Utah and Washington State teams.
However, despite the two losses, the Bruins sit in position to claim a tie for second place in the conference with a win over the Sun Devils on Friday.
Keys to the Game:
-Elisha Davis vs. Jordin Canada
This is one of more exciting and highly anticipated matchups of the season for ASU. Elisha Davis, emotional leader and defensive stalwart for the Sun Devils, going head to head with Jordin Canada, one of the top young point guards in the nation, for 40 minutes. Canada is a major aspect of what UCLA does on both ends of the court. She’s the team’s second leading scoring, leads in assists and steals while also leading the Bruins in minutes played per game. Davis will need to have one of her best games of the season to contain a talent like Canada.
-Crash the boards
A major issue against Oregon State was how poorly ASU rebounded the basketball. The Beavers outrebounded the Sun Devils 34-23, the second time in the past four games that ASU has lost the rebounding battle. UCLA doesn’t have someone like Ruth Hamblin on the inside to lock down the boards, but they do have the top scoring offense in the Pac-12, and if ASU allows them any second-chance opportunities this game could get out of hand.
-Find easy shots
ASU shot an abysmal 31 percent in the loss to OSU, their worst offensive performance of the season. Bottom line, you can’t expect to shoot that poorly and maintain a spot at the top of the conference. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they won’t be seeing OSU’s conference-best scoring defense again this regular season. In fact, they’ll be taking a trip the other end of the spectrum when they take on UCLA’s 9th-best scoring defense. The Sun Devils have to create open shots and knock them down instead of settling for whatever is there; otherwise it might be another long night offensively.
Without a doubt, the X-factor for this matchup is Quinn Dornstauder. OSU’s Hamblin was able to absolutely smother Dornstauder last Sunday, allowing her eight total points on just 3-for-11 from the floor. On Friday, she’ll face another tough challenge in UCLA’s Monique Billings, a 6-foot-4 forward with great scoring ability. Dornstauder will likely be an integral part of ASU’s game plan, and she’ll need to produce in order to give the Sun Devils a victory.
With a team this talented playing at home, it’s hard to see them losing a second straight game. UCLA is extremely talented and a program on the rise, but it just doesn’t seem like they’re quite where they need to be in order to compete for a conference championship. It will be a close game, but the Sun Devils will walk away with a five-point victory to get themselves back on track.