There wasn’t much suspense in regards to what Arizona State needed to do in Las Vegas this weekend if they were to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
With their non-conference strength of schedule (ranked 298th) and sluggish finish (four-game losing streak entering the Pac-12 tournament) the Sun Devils needed to grab the Pac-12’s automatic bid if they were to go dancing.
With some help from Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA ended the Sun Devils’ NCAA hopes due in large part to the play of veterans Larry Drew II and Travis Wear.
Wear’s jumper with 11.3 seconds remaining sealed the 80-75 victory for the Pac-12 regular season champions, who advance to take on either Colorado or Arizona in the semifinals on Friday night.
Jordan Bachynski, who established a new Pac-12 record for blocked shots in a season, led Arizona State (21-11) with 22 points and Jahii Carson added 21, seven assists and six rebounds.
Drew II was key throughout for UCLA (24-8), as his 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting (and four assists) kept the Bruins afloat during a stretch early in the second half in which Arizona State led by as many as 15 points and threatened to put the game away.
The performance was simply the latest step in the North Carolina transfer’s progression, something more than a few people doubted would ever happen given the way in which he left Chapel Hill.
“I did notice looking at the stats here, we had five guys in double figures. That always pleases me,” said UCLA head coach Ben Howland after the win. “When we have five guys in double figures, chances are we’re going to win the game. So it was a really good balance today.
“Again, led by Larry. Larry was absolutely incredible today. He’s playing really good basketball for us.”
Wear added 15 points and six rebounds while Muhammad finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, and UCLA closed the game on an 8-1 run as the worn-down Sun Devils missed shots that fell down consistently over the first 30 minutes of the game.
So what does the result reveal in regards to UCLA’s hopes for both this weekend in Las Vegas but also the NCAA tournament? Rebounding, an area in which the Bruins have struggled for much of the season, will be key as their 14 offensive rebounds (15 second-chance points) were another reason why UCLA was able to mount their second-half rally.
But for all the attention given to UCLA’s trio of talented freshmen, veterans such as Drew II and Wear are just as important for Ben Howland’s team. It wasn’t smooth sailing for UCLA but they found a way to win. Survive and advance.