Devils Falter in Pac-10 Home Opener

The stage was set, hype was in the air, and with nearly 10,000 fans in the stands the Sun Devils had a chance to further validate their impressive season record and maybe silence more of its critics. Following a frustrating 86-82 loss to UCLA, the accolades may have turned, at least for now, into doubt.

For most of the first half, ASU (13-3, 2-2) had the game under control. Bryson Krueger and Jason Braxton each score four points as the home team jumped to a 13-5 lead over UCLA (10-3, 4-1) at the 14:31 mark of the first half. The Bruins' Aaron Afflalo narrows the gap to 24-20 with 9:03 left in the half, but the maroon and gold storm back with an 8-0 run, and back-to-back long-range baskets by Krueger and Kevin Kruger give the home team their biggest lead of the game 32-20 at the 6:35 mark. Late first half swoons have repeatedly plagued ASU this season, and sure enough it came to rear its ugly head once again on Thursday night. Jordan Farmar capped an 18-6 UCLA run to give the visitors their first lead of the game 38-37 with a 1:42 left in the first half. Both teams traded baskets the rest of the way, as the Bruins ended the half with a 42-41 lead. Little did anyone know that UCLA would never relinquish the lead for the rest of the night.

The Bruins had an 8-0 run of their own to open the second stanza, as Josh Shipp gives his team a 50-41 lead with just two minutes gone by. Serge Angounou leads the charge for the Devils who shrunk the margin to 54-51 at the 14:01 mark. A three pointer by Ryan Hollins put the visitors' lead in double digits for the first time 67-57 with 7:13 left in the game. Kruger's six points brought his team within two 69-67 at the 4:53 mark, but that's as close as Rob Evans' squad would come tonight to recapturing the lead. UCLA made their free throws down the stretch and kept their tie for first place in the conference in tact.

Kruger paced the Sun Devils with 18 points and lead all players with six assists. Bryson Krueger had 16 and was nearly flawless behind the arc converting 4-5 three-point shots. Ike Diogu nearly achieved another double double with 15 points and nine boards, but was ineffective tonight. His 3-7 free throw shooting was just an extension of his play. Angounou on the other hand did notch a double double with 13 points and a game leading 11 boards. Speaking of rebounds, UCLA had a 41-35 edge in that department. ASU's 66.7% free throw shooting negated their relatively low number of turnovers (nine). Farmar paced all players the floor with 20 points.

"We didn't do a good job getting back in transition," said coach Rob Evans, "and that hurt us. We worked on that all week, and we knew they would come at us like that. Certainly in the game like this you have to make your free throws. We're a pretty good free shooting team, and we didn't get that done and that was the crux of the ball game."

When asked about the technical foul levied against him late in the first half, which stemmed from the refs ignoring his plea for a timeout, he replied: "It was just a horrible call from what is suppose to be a group of good Pac-10 officials. I was told last week that I need to walk down and get their (the refs) attention. I was calling timeout (motioning the time out hand signal). For a guy to assume that I'm doing something else – is just horrendous. Don't get me wrong; I don't want to take away anything from both teams. UCLA played hard and deserved to win the ball game. But that (the technical foul) was a key play in the ball game and it should have never happened."

The Sun Devils will have no time to lick their wounds and agonize over this loss, as they host USC on Saturday. The Trojans kept matters close in a loss to Arizona on Thursday, and even though they're still seeking their first Pac-10 win they're not a team to take lightly. On Saturday, the lights won't shine as bright as they did on Thursday, and that's perhaps a good thing. This team still needs to prove they're ready for prime time, and a victory on Saturday can restore much needed confidence and perhaps erase the memory of what has to be one of the most discouraging losses in recent years.

Sparky's Sundries - Someone must have forgot to tell the students that school only starts on Tuesday. That section of the arena was nearly full against UCLA, and the participants were as loud as ever…Another aspect that made the game enjoyable were appearances by the Phoenix Suns' gorilla and his zoo crew, as well as the Suns' dancers…we now know that are three certainties in life – death, taxes, and referee Dave Libbey screwing ASU in a game…wonder what Lou Campanella, head of Pac-10 officiating who was in attendance, thought about the numerous questionable calls in the game…

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