A mediocre UCLA beat a terrible ASU team but the Bruins got a big break far away in Colorado, where the Buffaloes got blown out at home by Stanford. That means if California beats Colorado on Saturday and UCLA beats Arizona on Saturday, UCLA is in fourth place by winning the tie breakers with Arizona and Colorado and achieves a first round bye in the Pac-12 tourney. However, playing at Arizona is not going to be easy. David Wear said:
"They're one of the best teams in our conference and we beat them earlier this year so we know we could beat them," Bruins forward David Wear said of Arizona.
"We're really focusing hard because we're going into a hostile environment. We haven't got a real, good solid road win in a hostile environment so that will be huge for us to go in there and pull out a win and stop some of those people from talking so much (about UCLA's woes)."
Winning at Arizona would be a solid not spectacular win. Winning at ASU proves, well, not much. ASU remains a bad team with issues:
"The overall story line for our team tonight was making plays," said Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek. "We had any number of point-blank opportunities to score that we didn't capitalize on."
Both teams went into the final two weeks of the regular season hoping for something positive at the end of disappointing years. . . .
Arizona State's season has been ugly the whole way through.
The young Sun Devils - with no seniors on their roster - have struggled with turnovers, ranking among the worst in the nation, and are the only team from one of the six biggest conferences to not win consecutive games all season. . . .
The Sun Devils had a similar mercurial run in the first half against UCLA, opening six of seven from the floor before missing 11 straight shots and turning the ball over six times during a scoreless stretch that lasted nearly eight minutes.
Some Bruins did have good games:
Jones lit up Arizona State with a game-high 20 zone-busting points in a 66-57 victory at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday night.
Thirteen of those points came in a second half when his 5-for-7 shooting from the field allowed the Bruins to stretch both the Sun Devils' 2-3 matchup zone and the lead. UCLA built a 17-point lead before losing focus in the final minutes.
Jones keyed UCLA's big run. A run which was unfortunately necessary as the Bruins could not put away a bad ASU team.
Every time it appeared as if the Bruins had seized some momentum and were about to blow open a big lead, the Sun Devils rallied and kept within striking distance. The Bruins took a six-point lead late in the first half, but it dwindled to 25-24 by halftime.
UCLA had a 46-37 lead with 11:31 to play, but Arizona state rallied back to make it 47-43 a minute and a half later. Even down the stretch, when UCLA finally put the game away by opening a 66-49 lead with 2:25 to play, Arizona State made a run and really could have made things interesting if a couple of 3-point shots had fallen. . . .
TURNING POINT: After struggling to make a game-clinching run for most of the game, the Bruins finally took control with a 17-4 run that turned a 49-45 lead with 8:42 left to play into a 66-49 lead with 2:25 left.
The Bruins held Arizona State to 1-of-7 shooting during that stretch while connecting on eight of nine shots of their own. Jones and Wear each scored five points during the run, including a 3-pointer by Jones that gave UCLA 56-46 lead for the first double-digit lead of the game with 7:10 to play.
Josh Smith had a good second half after a cameo appearance in the first half when he had two fouls in two minutes:
Smith had eight of his 10 points in 11 second-half minutes and deftly weaved in and around an Arizona State zone defense that did not find an answer for his size.
"I've been working on not letting that affect me, still being supportive, but it's hard," Smith said. "I went out there, scored, tried to take a charge and got a block and that's on me, come back down and got another.
"That's no way anybody wants to go out."
Without Smith, the Bruins failed to gain traction in the first half against a plucky Sun Devils squad that beat them on the offensive glass, where they picked up 11 rebounds.
Smith's problems with fouls and conditioning are well documented. But the stranger appearance was Norman Powell in the starting lineup. Powell started because of yet another problem, this time with Tyler Lamb.
UCLA guard Tyler Lamb, one of two Bruins who had started all 27 previous games, was held out for the first four minutes because he "failed to follow through on an academic responsibility," Howland said, adding that Lamb's status for the game at Arizona on Saturday has not been determined. "It may be one more game" without starting, he said.
UCLA still has a shot at a first round bye in the down Pac-12. But the question now is will they take advantage of it or will more problems surface?