UCLA is riding high after an impressive 84-73 victory in Tucson over the sixth-ranked Arizona Wildcats. Winners in 11 of their past 12 games, Ben Howland looks to have finally righted the ship in Westwood by letting his stars shine like Shabazz Muhammad (23 points against UofA) and a balanced rotation that sees seven players average more than 21 minutes per game.
If J.T. Terrell is still in the state of Arizona, he is still well within his range to make a shot at Wells Fargo Arena. Arizona State needed overtime but prevailed 98-93 in a fantastic, fast-paced battle with USC despite the Trojans making 15 three-pointers including three consecutive prayers at the end of regulation to force overtime. The Sun Devils were able to put the game away in the waning seconds and were led throughout by a well-balanced attack: Evan Gordon poured in 28 points, Jahii Carson had 21 points and 8 assists, Carrick Felix and Jon Gilling posted double-doubles and the center duo of Bachynski & Pateev combined for 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks while going 5-7 from the free-throw line.
Beating USC was a must-win for a team like ASU that may very well find itself in the bubble conversation come March and there is absolutely no shame in losing to a loaded UCLA team but sweeping the LA schools and getting out to a 16-4 start with only a month remaining would give the Sun Devils a real chance to get into the NCAA Tournament assuming they maintain the current pace.
Ben Howland: 10th season at UCLA – 224-104; 393-200 career
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 113-99; 367-267 career
G – Larry Drew (5.9 PPG, 8.2 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.5 PPG, 5.3 APG)
G – Jordan Adams (15.2 PPG, 33% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (11.1 PPG, 36% 3PT)
F – Shabazz Muhammad (18.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG)
F – Kyle Anderson (9.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
F – Travis Wear (12.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.9 PPG, 4.2 BPG)
Why UCLA Can Win:
After a tumultuous past three seasons in which the Bruins lost a combined 43 games and danced just once, UCLA looks like it might be turning back into the giant that it once was. As recently as 2008, when UCLA had just made its third consecutive Final Four, it looked as if this program was not going to stutter one bit for a long time but transfers, internal fighting, recruiting misses and lack of offensive identity led to stiffer times but the three-headed Freshmen trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams have meshed beautifully with UCLA’s three North Carolina transfers (Larry Drew, Wear twins) to make sweet basketball music in 2012-13.
Muhammad has similar looks and style to James Harden and he is having a Harden-like impact on the rest of the conference. He has scored in double figures in all but one of his games and is efficient in every aspect of the game. The Bruins shoot the three-ball and make their free throws. Maybe the most dangerous player next to Muhammad is Larry Drew, who is a very effective floor leader with a 4.6-1 assist to turnover ratio. The danger doesn’t stop there as Jordan Adams is a great slasher who gets to the line and capitalizes on 81% of his free throws. Kyle Anderson’s versatility is something every team craves and the Wear twins are heady big men that can impact the game in a variety of ways.
Why ASU Can Win:
Against USC, the Sun Devils got to the free throw line 36 times, won the rebounding battle, turned the ball over just ten times and shot over 50% from the field – that, my friends, is the recipe for success (note: ASU is 53-8 under Sendek when shooting 550% or better from the field). ASU may not score 98 points again anytime soon but it is safe to say their opponents won’t make 15 three-pointers including a few miracles either. What USC taught everyone is that when Evan Gordon is a force – the Sun Devil offense is very, very scary.
Carrick Felix will get his baskets in transition and Jon Gilling will knock down the open trey more often than not but Gordon’s role in the offense is much more complex – he can hit from deep anywhere along the perimeter, he attacks the basket well and knocks down free throws. If UCLA goes home with a loss, Evan Gordon will have had a major impact on the ballgame.
Key Stat: Only one other player in the nation is averaging what Jahii Carson is in minutes (36.4), points (17.5) and assists (5.3)...senior Nate Wolters of South Dakota State (37.4/20.7/5.8). With Chris Colvin’s status still in limbo, Carson is asked to do more than just about any player in the nation but he has responded very well to the call.
X-Factor: Foul trouble; Jahii Carson’s third foul against Arizona right before halftime changed the entire complexion of the game and turned a close game into a blowout. In the USC game, he sat out the final five minutes of the first half with two fouls and USC closed the gap. Carson is not only a star but at the current moment, he is also the only point guard available for Herb Sendek. Carson bounces around the court and can be overaggressive at times. For ASU to be successful, Jahii Carson has to be on the court and not be watching from the bench.
Final Score: UCLA 78 ASU 69