With March Madness creeping around the corner for college basketball there are teams looking toward their tournament bid and then there are teams that are hanging onto some thought of a miracle. With UCLA and Arizona State taking to the court to battle on Sunday night, both of these teams were hanging on by prayer to any postseason hope and by postseason hope I mean the NIT, not the “Big Dance”. This game was a huge game in terms of that slim hope because the teams came with records of 14-11 for the Sun Devils and 13-11 for UCLA.
Sometimes just having that hope is all a team needs to keep things going for them and on Sunday night both the Sun Devils and Bruins played like it was their last game of the season. Both teams had the touch going early and that was a good sign for Arizona State especially since they started so cold from the field against USC on Friday night.
UCLA tried to make an issue about their size difference inside in the first half, but the Sun Devils didn’t seem concerned as they got baskets inside and got hot from the perimeter. If it were not for a few missed attempts right at the basket, the Devils may have had a bigger lead instead of being tied or it being a one or two possession game most of the first half.
One of the issues in the first half for both teams was neither was really wanting to take control of the game. Just when I thought Arizona State was starting to get their flow going, here came UCLA to take the lead or tie it. When it came to UCLA gaining momentum, the Sun Devils got hot from the field and tied it or took a slight lead. Who was going to impose their will in the second half? Whomever did was going to be clinging to that slight hope of a post season berth.
Teams went to the half with the score 37-35 UCLA in the lead.
UCLA took control early in the second half by taking advantage of their size. They got their big men some easy opportunities and continued to hit at a pretty decent clip from the field. They opened up a seven point lead with 14 minutes left. However, that is an eternity in basketball, but the size difference was starting to show for the Bruins.
Was there anything that the Sun Devils could do to keep the Bruins from winning the game?
The answer to that was a resounding no. The Sun Devils decided that missing free throws, missing shots, and turning the ball over was what they wanted to do. Seriously, once the game got under the 10 minute mark it was over.
Open jump shots were not falling. It didn’t matter if the Sun Devils were in paint or shooting from the three point arch. Nothing was falling for them and there was little Head Coach Bobby Hurley could do to stem the tide. He decided to see if the team could just shoot their way out of it. That didn’t happen, the Sun Devils just shot their way out of the game and lost 78-65.
“Our first media timeout we were 2-10, our second media time out we were 3-13, we were missing free throws. Anytime we had a sniff of getting the game in a close margin, we refused to make shots, free throws, and layups.” Said a frustrated Head Coach Bobby Hurley.
This was such a tough, frustrating game for Arizona State that in his post-game press conference Bobby Hurley almost seemed at a loss of words. He wants to win every game like every coach does, but this won stung his program a little bit more tonight.
“Obviously a tough loss, I felt like we were on the verge of something tonight. Like there has been this year, there has been progress and there has been regress. We regressed again tonight.” Coach Hurley mentioned at beginning of the press conference.
Like any team trying to turn the corner and become a winner, Arizona State still has a lot of work ahead of itself with its basketball program. They have a bit of talent, but they are small. UCLA was big and long and it caused enormous issues for the Sun Devils. What happens now? Well, the Sun Devils need to finish the season out as strong as possible to help recruit bigger, longer, more talented kids to the desert. Winning helps everything, but it really helps perception for a program like ASU because when talented kids think of basketball in Arizona they don’t think of the Sun Devils they think of their rivals to the south in Tucson.
I, for one, love a balanced conference, so I am rooting for the Sun Devils to field a better team in the future. However, only time will tell with this program. Forks Up Sun Devil fans.