UCLA has been on one heck of a roller-coaster ride this season. Fans were preparing to run Ben Howland out of town on a rail after a November home loss to Cal Poly, and another round of midseason player defections. Then came a ten-game win streak and solid play from freshmen Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad that put the Bruins right back in the heat of the Pac 12 race. Now inconsistency has crept into the mix again.
There was a time when a trip to Tempe was a rather easy win for the Bruins, but it was not this day. The Sun Devils made an emphatic statement today, beating visiting UCLA by 18 points, and staking a legit contender’s claim. Herb Sendek did it with Iron Man minutes from his starting five, including a full 40 minutes played by freshman point guard Jahii Carson. Ruslan Pateev scored two points in ten minutes off of the bench; the rest came from the starting lineup.
Center Jordan Bachynski – he of the triple-double against Northridge – played the fewest minutes of any starter, logging just 30, but he was the most effective part of a sterling group effort. The big man scored 22 points to go with 15 boards and six blocked shots, which is very much the kind of performance basketball fans have come to expect. Carrick Felix was actually the leading scorer for the Sun Devils, however, notching 23 to complement eleven boards, three steals and two blocks.
UCLA struggled to score, shooting just 34.7 percent from the floor against the stolid interior play of Bachynski and Felix. The dysfunction that characterized UCLA’s early season returned to some degree, with David Wear putting in a mediocre effort while his brother Travis sat due to injury, and Anderson fouling out with just six points to his credit.
The Sun Devils are in good shape for a tourney bid right now, with the toughest part of their schedule already behind them. They won’t face a currently ranked team until they close the season against arch-rival and current No. 6 Arizona.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.