Devils beat Bruins, finish 2nd in Pac-10

ASU's 56-46 win over UCLA wasn't all that different than their win against USC 48 hours ago. It certainly didn't score any style points, but the bottom line was still the same. This afternoon's victory helped ASU ensure an improbable second place finish in the conference, the school's highest finish since 1981.

On a day where the Sun Devil seniors were honored, one of them in particular, Eric Boateng, literally willed his team to victory with 16 points, 14 rebounds (six offensive) and four blocks.

"He was terrific," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek of his center. "16 and 14…but he has really been good for us now on a consistent basis. There has been on more than one occasion where he just wouldn't let us lose and I thought today was one of those kind of efforts. His effort level was incredible and his productivity was outstanding."

Much has been said about the even keel nature of this team, and sure enough Arizona State (22-9, 12-6 Pac-10) wasn't caught in the emotions of saying farewell to its seniors and led 13-0 at the 15:56 mark, causing UCLA (13-17, 8-10) to call two timeouts in just over four minutes.

Boateng and Ty Abbott scored eight points each in the first half as the hosts maintained a double digit lead for most of the half and went down to the locker room with a 32-21 advantage.

The Bruins started the second stanza on a torrid pace, and two three pointers by Nikola Dragovic cut down the deficit to 35-30 with just over three minutes gone in the period. Ultimately that's as close as the visitors would get to overtaking the lead.

ASU, who scored just 25 points in the second half held UCLA to just 29.6 percent from the field in the same time frame and trading baskets for the rest of the contest was more than enough to accomplish a comfortable win.

"We had breakdowns. We didn't play a perfect game," admitted Sendek, "but you have to give UCLA credit too. They are a good offensive basketball team, a talented team and we have great respect for them. UCLA is the leading field goal percentage offensive team in our league. They shoot 49 percent. We held them to 83 percent in the first half in our first meeting and 63 for the game.

"So our guys understood their capability offensively and knew that we would really have to be at our best defensively to have a chance today."

ASU had a 39-30 edge on the glass, and along with Boateng, a significant reason for that feat was Rihards Kuksiks. The junior was 0-9 from beyond the arc and had five turnovers but he responded to those struggles with three offensive rebounds and ten overall caroms to along with eight points. Kuksiks also had four assists and three steals.

"We want all of our guys to add value in a multitude of ways," said Sendek, "and it was god to see Rik get double digit rebounds and try to help us in some other ways."

18 of ASU's 20 field goals came via assists with Abbott leading the way with five of them.

Dragovic and Malcolm Lee paced the Bruins with 15 points each.

Without a bona fide superstar, all season long ASU has epitomized the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the Sun Devil skipper stated that this was a notion that needed to be sternly preached to his team after a 0-2 start in Pac-10 play.

"That was one of our central messages that really started to take shape in our first conference weekend at UCLA and USC," recalled Sendek. "That became an important theme for us. This team has really embodied and personified that concept of synergy."

ASU was picked by many media outlets to finish in the lower echelon of the conference, and despite losing James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph they find themselves at the end of the regular season occupying the league's second place. The Sun Devil skipper sung the praises of his squad whose character helped achieve this season's success.

"This group has been a lot of fun to coach," commented Sendek. "They are good guys. I sit here and listen to the way that Eric talks and listen to his responses to your questions…are you kidding me? How does it get any better than that? What a gentleman. We have good guys and those are guys that are easy to pull for, easy to cheer for and they enrich me tremendously."

The inevitable questions on whether ASU has punched its card to the big dance started today following the UCLA game and will undoubtedly continue in the upcoming week. Sendek acknowledged that today's victory was obviously helpful but when it comes to whether his squad servers to be part of the NCAA tournament his squad needs to be concerned only with what they can control.

"Certainly our team has played very good basketball now for the last eight weeks or so," remarked Sendek. "We started 0-2 (in Pac-10 play) and now we've won 12 of 16. That's good but we have to move forward and get ready for the next game next week."

ASU will open the Pac-10 tournament with a game against Stanford on Thursday. Tip-off from Los Angeles' Staples Center is 9:30 p.m. MT.

Senior day will always mark an end of a chapter, but Sendek know that this season's story has yet to reach its conclusion.

"It's a great celebration today and we pay tribute to all of their contributions to the university both on and off the court," said Sendek of his seniors. "But today isn't the day to say goodbye. We have the Pac-10 tournament ahead of us and the season continues. It's a celebration, it's a pause, and it's a landmark being their last home game.

"But I wasn't ready to say goodbye today."

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