UCLA Preview

After seemingly bowing out of the Pac-10 race a few weeks ago, the Arizona State Sun Devils (18-5, 7-4) have bounced back nicely and will host the UCLA Bruins (19-4, 8-2) on Thursday night in one of the biggest games in years at Wells Fargo Arena.

With ESPN showing the game in prime time and some special guests in the house with the NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix this weekend – this tilt for Pac-10 control will have a near sellout crowd provide an electric atmosphere.

A weekend to the Northwest was just what ASU needed to break out of a slump as they took on two of the weaker teams in the conference in Oregon and Oregon State.

In the weekend opener against Oregon, the Sun Devils relied heavily on James Harden as the sensational sophomore poured in 36 points and Jeff Pendergraph added 13 as the Devils won 66-57 in a game marred by Derek Glasser getting hurt on a screen in the waning minutes. Oregon was led by 18 points from Tajuan Porter.

Closing out the weekend, ASU traveled to Corvallis and struggled mightily scoring but still pulled out a 49-38 win. The Devils were led by Pendergraph 15 second-half points and Jamelle McMillan scoring 14 in place of the injured Glasser. Rickey Claitt scored 13 for the Beavers.

After a loss to Washington in Seattle three weeks ago, UCLA has really taken their game to new heights in their last four games.

The Bruins have won four straight games by an average of 22 points. Last week, the Bruins played two big games at home against USC and Notre Dame and left no doubt in both. Against the Trojans, the Bruins jumped out to a 23-point lead at half and won 76-60. Josh Shipp scored 19 points and Alfred Aboya had a big game with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

The weekend was capped off with a dominating 89-63 non-conference win over the flailing Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. It was another big game for Aboya as he paced UCLA with 19 points.

Head Coach – Ben Howland

Projected Starters

G – Darren Collison – (14.3 PPG, 5.0 APG)
G – Jrue Holiday – (9.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
G – Josh Shipp – (12.3 PPG, 39% 3PT)
F – Nikola Dragovic – (8.2 PPG, 38% 3PT)
F – Alfred Aboya – (9.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG)

Impact Reserves

G – Jerime Anderson
G – Michael Roll
F – Malcolm Lee
F – Drew Gordon – (may miss game with back spasms)
F – James Keefe

Recent Matchups

The Sun Devils held the Bruins scoreless in the last 8:16 of regulation to erase an 11-point deficit and force overtime. In overtime, the Sun Devils allowed only one field goal and outlasted UCLA to win 61-58. It was the Devils first road win over a top-10 team since 1998 and their first win in eight tries over the Bruins. James Harden willed the team to victory with 24 hard-earned points to lead ASU while Josh Shipp dropped 16 for UCLA.

Key Stats

The biggest number in this marquee matchup is 14,198. That's the seating capacity of Wells Fargo Arena. In a recent article by ESPN.com's Pat Forde; the Sun Devil fan base was exposed. In one of the best seasons in recent history, the Sun Devils should get more support at home yet they fill up less than 60% of the arena on average. For the Devils to really gain the home court advantage there should be zero empty seats.

When the Bruins have the ball

The offense is run through arguably the best floor leader in college basketball: Darren Collison. He is a fluid playmaker that rarely gets flustered and is as clutch as they come. Surrounding him will be the athletic freshman Jrue Holiday and the high scoring Josh Shipp on the wings with Nikola Dragovic and Alfred Aboya down low. Collison and Holiday will penetrate as much as possible while Shipp and Dragovic will park on the perimeter looking to find an open shot.

The lone interior force is Aboya, a player who has really elevated his game on offense and is now a dangerous inside presence. The Bruins are very deep all around with Jerime Anderson, Michael Roll, and Malcolm Lee contributing in the backcourt while James Keefe will get some minutes down low. Roll is a very dangerous shooter off the bench.

When the Sun Devils have the ball

Derek Glasser has been cleared to play after injuring his neck against Oregon and missing the Oregon State game. The Sun Devils will roll out the rest of the usual starters of James Harden and Ty Abbott on the wings with Jeff Pendergraph and Rihards Kuksiks on the post.

The offense will go through Harden and Pendergraph while the other three will try to make their impact early to get the pressure off the big two. Harden was unstoppable late in the game against UCLA in the last meeting and if he can penetrate and make plays then points will be a lot easier to come by. With a lot of the defensive attention focused on Harden and Pendergraph, Abbott and Kuksiks figure to get a lot of open looks and will have to significantly improve their recent shooting percentages if the Sun Devils have a shot to win.

Jamelle McMillan displayed a nice shooting touch in Corvallis, and with Abbott and Kuksiks struggling he may be called upon to provide some offense. Glasser aggressiveness on offense can ultimately be another key for ASU's performance.


Paging Ty Abbott!

Just a season ago, Abbott was a main catalyst on a 21-win team and averaged almost 10 points. This season, Abbott has averaged just 2.4 points in 11 Pac-10 games. If ASU has any realistic hopes of being looked at a NCAA tournament contender, Abbott needs to get his game in shape and he needs to it now. If the sophomore can find his stroke, opponents will be forced to keep him honest and that will allow Harden and Pendergraph to create more opportunities.

Who will win and why?

It's safe to say that ASU's win over UCLA was a bit of an aberration. It's not to say that the Devils didn't earn it down the stretch – it's just unlikely that UCLA will ever score just 4 points in a 13 minute interval. That being said, the Sun Devils will have the fans on their side in a rocking house and not to mention, a guy named James Harden. I think the ballgame will be a close one throughout with the Bruins eeking it out in the last couple minutes.

Final Score – UCLA 67 Arizona State 62

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