ASU Sweeps UCLA

UCLA was competitive for much of the game against Arizona St., but too many turnovers, and not enough rebounds, sealed the Bruins' fate against the Sun Devils...

It's a measure of just how far my expectations have fallen for UCLA basketball when a sixteen-point loss at Arizona St. doesn't seem that bad. It's a bizarre feeling when you come away from UCLA/ASU game grateful that the Bruins didn't lose by thirty. But that was my reaction yesterday, when the Bruins played a relatively competitive game with the Sun Devils.

UCLA came out with a game plan of stopping ASU freshman Ike Diogu and, for the most part, they succeeded in the first half. Diogu was swarmed by two or three Bruins every time he touched the ball in the low-post. UCLA has employed this strategy in the past against dominating big men, most notably in an NCAA tournament game against Robert Traylor and Michigan a few years ago. Of course, the success of the strategy depends on the inability of the other team to hit open jump shots. In that game against Michigan, Wolverine guard Louis Bullock made something like two out of fifty three shots (ok, maybe it wasn't quite that bad).

In the first half yesterday, the Sun Devil perimeter players seemed to be a little reluctant to shoot the outside shots, even though no Bruins were defending beyond the three-point line. When a team is giving you open looks, and daring you to make the outside shot, it can sometimes get in a player's head. ASU didn't appear to be very confident taking the jump shots early and they made only two of eight three-pointers in the first half.

As is often the case with UCLA after a blowout loss, the Bruins appeared to be loose and carefree early in the game. It's almost like they hit rock bottom one night and come out the next game with an attitude of "what do we have to lose?" They had no problem taking open jump shots – they were five of seven on three-pointers in the first half – and they also leaked out in transition for a few easy lay-ups in the first couple minutes. But despite the struggles of ASU early – and the Sun Devils appeared to be somewhat flat – UCLA only led by four at halftime.

UCLA managed to hold on to a slim lead until midway through the second half when the Sun Devils blitzed them with a 12-0 run. Curtis Millage hit two wide-open threes to end the run and that was basically the ball game. UCLA, which had been relying almost exclusively on Jason Kapono, couldn't answer the run and the Sun Devils gradually extended the lead to the final margin of sixteen.

UCLA shot the ball extremely well – 54% from the field – but they took eleven fewer shots than ASU. UCLA had nineteen turnovers, the Sun Devils grabbed eight more rebounds and ASU made 20-22 free throws.

Kapono was the leading scorer for UCLA with twenty one points and he had his way with Shawn Redhage for much of the game. But when the opens looks became tougher to come by late in the second half, Kapono tried to force the issue and took some difficult shots. You can't really blame Kapono, as no one else appeared capable of stepping up and hitting shots consistently. It's sad to watch Kapono struggle to get a good look, when he's exhausted late in the game, and no one is setting a screen for him. But since Jason hasn't received a solid screen since his senior year at Artesia, you wonder if he would even remember how to use a screen.

Ryan Hollins was impressive early, using his quickness and athleticism to go by Diogu for two very nice dunks. He also made a nice face-up jumper from about fifteen feet. Hollins does still need to add bulk and strength, though, as he struggled to get many rebounds, finishing with only three in thirty four minutes.

Cedric Bozeman started out well, hitting his first three-point attempt and looking to take the ball inside against the smaller ASU guards. However, Bozeman injured his shoulder five minutes into the game. Bozeman told reporters afterwards that he informed the trainer he was fine, but he played a total of only twelve minutes.

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