Sun Devils squander lead, fall to Bruins

LAS VEGAS - Arizona State gave the top-seeded Bruins all that they could handle on Thursday, but in the end came up short. UCLA, powered by Shabazz Muhammad and Larry Drew, rallied from a 15 point second half deficit to eliminate the Sun Devils and advance on to the conference semifinals.

Leading by eight points at halftime, Arizona State pushed its lead to as many as 15 in the opening moments of the second half, looking like a team determined to keep its postseason aspirations alive, threatening to knock off the regular season conference champion Bruins. But UCLA, who refused to be denied all game, slowly began to make its run as the Sun Devils fatigued down the stretch.

Trailing 66-58, Muhammad scored six straight points for the Bruins, who would go on a 9-0 run to regain its first lead since the game's opening minutes, capped by a Drew three point basket from the wing with 4:58 to play. Drew led the Bruins with 20 points on 8-10 shooting, to go along four rebounds and four assists.

The Sun Devils reclaimed the lead late, as Evan Gordon put them ahead 75-74 from the free throw line. But UCLA would go on a 6-0 run to finish the game, led by Travis and David Wear, putting an end to ASU's upset bid.

"It was a great win," said UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland afterwards. "Really proud of our team. We beat a very good team today. When you look at our conference and you think that's the 8th seeded team in our league, I think that says a lot about our conference."

"I give Arizona State a ton of credit," he continued. "They had us down. They had us down 15 with 16 minutes to go. But these guys never quit. They never gave up. They never stopped believing in themselves and each other, and really found a way to battle back."

Junior Jordan Bachynski led all scorers with a game-high 22 points for the Sun Devils, as he attacked the undersized UCLA interior early in the first half. Bachynski, who only played eight minutes against Stanford, added six rebounds and three blocks, setting both the Arizona State and Pac-12 record for blocked shots in a season in the loss.

"I think more than anything it was my teammates," remarked Bachynski on his performance. "I mean, Jahii had a ton of assists today. Me and him really had it going on the pick and roll, and we knew that this was a great matchup for me and we need to take advantage of it."

"I thought Bachynski, he always gives us problems," said Howland. "He's given us problems in every single game since his freshman year."

Jahii Carson helped keep the Sun Devils afloat in the second half as UCLA made its push. Coming of a career-high 34 points on Wednesday, Carson scored 21 points in the loss, also totaling seven assists and 6 rebounds.

"I'm a little disappointed," he said. "I always want to win every game. But I'm just happy to be able to get a chance to play with these guys. It's a blessing for me to be here and play in front of all these people. But of course I want to win the basketball game. It's a little disappointing. It's my first year here, and I just wanted to come out and win this."

Jon Gilling kept his hot shooting from the perimeter going early, helping ASU jump ahead and extend its lead early in the second. The sophomore shooter finished with 17 points, including five 3 point baskets, to go along with seven rebounds. However, he had two shots at tying the game late that rimmed out, keeping the Sun Devils from pushing the game into overtime.

"I could have shot it myself or passed it to John, like I did," said Carson on Gilling's final attempt from the right wing. "But I felt he had the better opportunity than me. Catching it off the pass is much easier than off the dribble, especially at the speed I was coming. So I felt confident he was going to knock it down. He's been hitting threes the whole tournament, so I felt confident giving him the basketball to see if he could make the play."

After being limited to just four points in the first half while struggling with foul trouble, Muhammad carried the Bruins to the finish line. The conference's Co-Freshman of the Year, along with Carson, finished with 16 points and nine assists.

"Yeah, the first half, we had some good plays set for me, and I got some open looks," he said. "I mean, they didn't fall, but I was just trying to make sure I was rebounding the ball and playing hard. When you do that, you get good opportunities, and I started rebounding the ball and the ball started really coming to me in the second half."

"I thought Shabazz did a fantastic job taking the game over, especially scoring inside," added Howland. "I mean, we need to score inside, and he's our best player at going to the basket."

The Sun Devils were undone in the second half by their inability to control the Bruins on the backboards. UCLA out-rebounded ASU by nine in the final 20 minutes, including 14 offensive rebounds for the game. Travis Wear, who had 15 points and 6 rebounds, was a major force for the Bruins late in the game, keeping possessions alive knocking down big shots when needed.

"I think it was more of UCLA doing a great job on the backboard, making key shots," said Sun Devil Head Coach Herb Sendek. "They really made some clutch buckets and really were tenacious on the offensive glass. Those two things probably more than anything else more so than our ability to trace it to fatigue, tilted the game in their favor."

"Rebounding, I thought that was as much a key as any," he added. "Any time they had an open look down the home stretch, they made it. They didn't let us off the hook. Whether it was Drew, the Wear brothers, any time we had a breakdown, there was no forgiveness on their part. They were making shots."

With the loss, the Sun Devils will be relegated to the NIT Tournament despite winning 21 games, missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year.

"It's really disappointing," said Bachynski. "That was our goal all season. That's what we worked toward. It just sucks. Nothing else really to say."

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