ASU found itself in the familiar position of playing catch-up to its opponent after scoring a season low 19 points in the first half and trailing by 13 to the Bruins. The Sun Devils were victim once more of their own poor shooting, making only six of thirty shots (20%) in the first half, and lack of rebounding.
"In the first half we didn't shoot the ball well at all," senior Jamelle McMillan said. "I think we had one assist at halftime, so we weren't making each other better. We had some early foul trouble and guys stopped being aggressive."
A large reason for the offensive ineptitude Saturday was due to senior shooter Ty Abbott's first half foul trouble, as well as McMillan's disqualification due to fouls late in the contest. Abbott, the team's primary scoring threat this year, was held scoreless while being limited to just six minutes in the first half.
"Well obviously it really hamstrings us when he has that kind of immediate and then continued foul trouble," commented head coach Herb Sendek. "I don't know if he ever really got into the flow of the game."
The Devils struggled to slow down the potent UCLA offensive attack as the Bruins shot fifty-percent from the field and scored in a multitude of ways, both inside and outside, in the first half.
"I thought against SC we had our best defensive game," said Sendek. "I thought some light bulbs really went on in terms of concepts, in terms of what we're trying to do. It has nothing to do with zone or man or schemes, but just good defensive fundamentals.
"I thought maybe tonight we got too spread out and the film will tell the truth. At first glance, I didn't think we were as good today.
The Devils though responded in the second half with a sense of urgency and the kind of play fans have been hoping to see all year from the team. McMillan, who led the attack for the Sun Devils, quickly connected on a couple of three point attempts to start the half and ignited the offense. He finished the afternoon with 13 points on 5-7 shooting before fouling out late in the contest.
"I had to start playing. I had to be a threat," said the senior point guard. "I knocked the first one down. The second one felt pretty good. And then just being aggressive. Being in the mind-set of being the player I'm supposed to be for this basketball team in order to be successful.
Aiding the foul-plagued floor leader was sophomore sensation Trent Lockett, who chipped in a game-high 17 points for the Sun Devils along with seven rebounds, none no bigger than his tip-in on a Jordan Bachynski missed free throw to even the score in the game's closing moments.
"I just tried to time it off of Jordan's release," said Lockett on his put back. "It just kind of came in the perfect spot and I just put it back in."
"Trent once again I thought was very good in that (rebounding) area," remarked Sendek after the game. "He came down with six offensive, seven total rebounds. And we, after having a pretty sizable deficit in the first half, found a way to compete more favorably on the backboard."
Senior Ty Abbott was also able to find their rhythm in the second half. Abbott finished with 8 points and 4 assists while Kuksiks contributed 15 points and 6 rebounds.
The Sun Devils though were unable to seize a victory in overtime, as UCLA jumped out to an early lead, connecting on 3 three point attempts in the extra frame's opening minutes. The Bruins only converted on 5-17 three point attempts for the game, but seemed to make them during the game's biggest moments.
"It was a break down in rotation," said McMillan of the Bruins' three point efficiency in overtime. "It was nothing spectacular that they did. They just put the ball in the hole from deep.
"It's little things like that, that's really killing our basketball team right now. If we eliminate those kinds of possessions, we should be up two or three at the end of games instead of down two or three."
As the Sun Devils look to move past Saturday's loss and focus on next week's games, they can take solace in the fact that they're still showing signs of improvement and progressing towards becoming a better team. Of course, McMillan understands the true measure of his team will continued to be measured in terms of wins and losses.
"It's obviously encouraging that we have a team that can fight back and get back into a game. At this point the wins and the losses...it's the same story and it's been the same story for about a month now," he said. "We've got to find a way to make the plays late. We gave ourselves a chance, obviously. It went to the overtime period. We spotted them three three's right off the bat and it's tough to overcome that."
"If we're able to put two halves together the way we played in that second half, hopefully we'll be on the other end of the stick."