UCLA v Arizona State

Veterans Larry Drew II, Travis Wear help lead UCLA past Arizona State

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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.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: