With 1:38 remaining in overtime, the most unlikely of heroes found himself at the charity stripe with a chance to lead his team to victory. Though the free throw line may not be a sanctuary for the rest of his teammates, reserve center Ruslan Pateev stepped up and nailed a pair of free throws that helped the Sun Devils to their first two-possession lead of overtime, a lead they would never surrender.
The energizing play of the 7-foot center from Russia galvanized the Sun Devils throughout the night, especially during the overtime frame. For Coach Herb Sendek, the success of this season has been all about Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix, but he understood how important Thursday's effort was from his senior.
"I don't know that we don't win without him. I just feel tremendously blessed to be able to coach young men like Ruslan," Sendek said.
The Sun Devils squeaked by USC, but they'll need an even better performance against the likes of the UCLA Bruins, who come to Tempe fresh off an upset of No. 6 Arizona.
We take a closer look at the matchup between Arizona State and UCLA.
State of the Sun Devils: Behind four double digit scorers including a 28-point night from Evan Gordon, the Arizona State Sun Devils simply outlasted a sharpshooting USC team in a 98-93 overtime victory.
While Gordon lit up the scoring sheet, freshman sensation Jahii Carson was not far behind as he dropped 21 points and added eight assists in another spectacular outing.
Jonathan Gilling (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Carrick Felix (16 points, 10 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles and all four Sun Devils who finished in double figures played at least 40 of the 45 minutes on Thursday evening.
The Sun Devils' depth will be tested as they face a short turnaround and must get back in the saddle to take on a talented UCLA squad that is coming into its own. Though the Sun Devils will miss suspended guard Chris Colvin, their lineup has been boosted by the resurgence of senior center Ruslan Pateev. The 7-footer recorded his season-high with 23 minutes and contributed eight points and three blocks in the win against the Trojans.
The victory over USC gives Arizona State a 15-4 record on the season, but free throw woes (25-36 against USC) reminds the Sun Devils that they still have a long way to go before they can consider themselves an upper-echelon team in the Pac-12.
State of the Bruins
The season may have started out poorly for UCLA as they needed overtime to defeat UC Irvine and lost to Cal Poly, but the Bruins have meshed quite nicely in conference play. At 16-4, the Bruins have asserted themselves as a contender for the Pac-12 title and Thursday's victory over sixth-ranked Arizona will go a long way in helping this team reach that goal.
Three different Bruins are averaging at least 12 points, but the play of highly touted wing Shabazz Muhammad has taken the Bruins to a whole new level. Few freshmen have matched Jahii Carson's productivity, but Muhammad might be one of them. The 6-foot-6-inch athletic specimen leads his team with 18.1 points per game, but also averages nearly five rebounds per contest.
Muhammad is not a one-man show either, as fellow freshman Jordan Adams is scoring over 15 points per game as well. Together, the youthful duo have provided opponents with matchup nightmares, and they continued their solid run through Pac-12 play with another great outing in Tucson.
The Bruins ran right by the Wildcats and stormed out to a 40-30 halftime lead, and Muhammad and Adams took over late in the second half to lead the Bruins to an 84-73 win. Together, they combined for 38 points on 14-28 shooting, and forward David Wear also added 15 points off the bench.
Despite losing to Oregon last week, the Bruins still hold a 6-1 record in Pac-12 play and are among the most dangerous teams in the conference.
Matchup to Watch
Shabazz Muhammad vs. The Sun Devil Defense
One of the biggest frustrations for Arizona State this season has been limiting an opponents' star player and Muhammad could certainly qualify. The rangy wing can catch and shoot, create off the dribble, and score at will when duty calls. Muhammad torched the Arizona Wildcats for 23 points, and the Sun Devils will run Evan Gordon or Carrick Felix at him all afternoon on Saturday.
The Sun Devils should know the dangers an unstoppable freshman can create, as they practice and play with Jahii Carson enough during the week. Muhammad will have his success, but for the Sun Devils, it's all about limiting the number of ways he can beat them.