In the offseason, UCLA and USC each had to make a basketball hire. Andy Enfield got all the buzz after taking Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 and parlaying that into the USC gig but Steve Alford leaving New Mexico for UCLA was ripped by many and left the Bruins fan base uninspired but after 12 wins in his first 15 games including a 34-point pasting of USC, Alford’s star is shining a bit brighter in LA these days. UCLA nearly knocked off top-ranked Arizona and will look to salvage a weekend split against ASU. Kyle Anderson had 16 points to lead four Bruins in double digits in the 79-75 loss.
After a dud against Washington, the Sun Devils have responded forcefully with two blowout wins against Washington State and then on Thursday night at USC. Against the Trojans, the Devils used a run midway through the first half to peel away and never looked back after that, winning 79-60. A dominant performance on both ends, Jordan Bachysnki led the way with 20 points and 12 boards while Jahii Carson posted 18 points with Shaq McKissic and Jermaine Marshall putting up 12 and 10 points respectively.
ASU is the only team in the Pac-12 to play all three ranked Pac-12 opponents twice which is easy to complain about but also gives the Devils the most chances to pull off upsets and spruce up their NCAA Tournament resume come March. Playing UCLA on the road is no easy task and losing wouldn’t be humiliating but pulling off a win would allow ASU to jump back into the conversation of national rankings and Tournament locks.
Steve Alford: 1st season at UCLA – 12-3; 475-238 career
Herb Sendek: 8th season at ASU – 132-111; 386-289 career
G – Norman Powell (10.7 PPG, 2.1 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (18.6 PPG, 4.9 APG)
G – Jordan Adams (18.3 PPG, 36% 3PT) vs. Jermaine Marshall (15.1 PPG, 45% 3PT)
F – Kyle Anderson (15.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG) vs. Shaq McKissic (8.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG)
F – Travis Wear (5.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (6.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
C – David Wear (7.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (12.6 PPG, 4.8 BPG)
Why UCLA Can Win:
Quite possibly the deepest team in the country, the Bruins have eight guys playing more than 20 minutes per game. Tony Parker, Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford would be starters on just about every other team in the Pac-12 and having them on the bench is what makes UCLA so dangerous. Jordan Adams is a scorer that can create his own shot and get to the basket while Kyle Anderson has the most versatile skillset in college hoops. The Wear twins have seemingly been in college for the last 15 years and they play heady basketball that can frustrate opponents and minimize the impact of the guys they’re guarding. Solid rebounders and unlikely to make mistakes, they are perfect complements to the guard-dominant Bruin offense.
Why ASU Can Win:
After an early skid in the Pac-12 slate, the Devils are playing good basketball right now and moving the ball around to find open looks and stretch defenses – a trend that will need to continue if they want to pull the upset. Jordan Bachynski needs to be as physical as he can be to give the Wear’s trouble and try to put a dent into their relatively thin frontcourt – Tony Parker is the only big that contributes any meaningful minutes in reserve for UCLA. Jahii Carson needs to take advantage of the new NCAA rules that disallow hand-check fouls. He is able to kill two birds with one stone by getting UCLA into early foul trouble but also attack the heart of their defense and force them to pick their poison.
Key Stat: Arizona State is 3-0 in true road games. For a team with 8 newcomers and a team with a lot of pressure to succeed, playing well on the road bodes extremely well moving forward. Having confidence to win away in hostile environments gives this team a real chance to succeed.
X-Factor: Jon Gilling; playing against teams that utilize two bigs is something ASU has to use in their favor and Gilling is the one who can cause all that chaos. If Gilling can stretch their big men to cover him on the perimeter, it opens up the lane for the guards to drive and more importantly, it gives Bachynski one-on-one opportunities against smaller defenders that will be looking to stay foul-free. Gilling needs to hit his shots for any of that to happen with any success.
Final Score: UCLA 81 ASU 73