Fresh from the floors of Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona...
The Arizona State Sun Devils turned in a gritty performance tonight, notching a huge victory over the UCLA Bruins in a game that was highly anticipated by many, and an absolute thrill to be a part of.
The student section was adorned in maroon and gold, as this was the inaugural stripe-out initiated by the Athletic Department, with free t-shirts given out to the lower bowl.
This was a game where every Sun Devil was involved on offense, with the much maligned Ty Abbott chipping in with 12 points on 3/7 three point shooting. All of the starters outside of Jamelle McMillan scored double digits, as the distribution of the ball was well-rounded.
James Harden hooked it up with 15 points and 11 assists, looking for his teammates and wowing the crowd (and the throng of NBA scouts on hand to witness this epic game). Rihards Kuksiks went 4/5 from long distance, and Derek Glasser was clutch in the closing moments, while going 3/4 from beyond the arc.
This was a total team effort and a statement victory. It was a testament to both our individual talents, and our willingness to sacrifice statistics for results. James Harden could have scored 25 tonight, but instead he led this team to the next tier of college basketball respectability.
Lets look at my Keys To The Game, from the Two Hour Warning.
Break Down The Zone. Find open men on the outside. With 3 players averaging 40%, you need to be letting it fly, and Aboya will collect the missed shots.
UCLA shot 44.4% from 3 in this game (8 for 18). Aboya was nearly a non-factor, collecting 4 rebounds and scoring 8 points. Clearly, Pendergraph and Harden (9 and 7 rebounds, respectively) got the better of this matchup in the post.
Lock Down Harden. Make ASU beat you on offense with role players. If Dragovic can be instrumental in the victory, try to force Ty Abbott into a starring role. He's not comfortable with that.
Guess what? Harden scored 15. Not his average, but he was a factor. The Sun Devil role players stepped up huge in this game, and Ty Abbott played an excellent game, both offensively and defensively. He is a force on the boards, despite his diminutive stature (by basketball standards, at least).
Cause Foul Trouble For Pendergraph. This goes without saying. If Jeff Pendergraph is on the bench, Eric Boateng will not be able to stop Alfred Aboya. This will ensure victory.
Jeff Pendergraph played 38 minutes, and only had 2 fouls called against him.
Basically, UCLA didn't follow my blueprint to success. That was a mistake...
It's Harden's Game. This is James Harden's statement game against the #6 team in the country. He will be fired up and ready to impress the selection committee.
This game was a statement by Harden: James can spread the ball, collect loose boards, and score at will on a great defensive team. He is destined to be a top 3 pick in June.
Utilize The Healthy Bench: Don't overwork Derek Glasser or Rihards Kuksiks. These guys deserve breaks, especially Glasser who is coming off a scary collison. Jamelle McMillan and Jerren Shipp can come in and help out in this game. Shipp always has a little extra to give against his brother.
Glasser played 29 minutes, and Kuksiks was out there for 38. They were able to play well despite recent downturns in health (concussion, flu respectively). McMillan got the start over Abbott, and was a useful contributor to the offensive flow. Jerren Shipp gave the guys a brief rest, while scoring an important layup.
Turn 8 Minutes Into 40 Minutes: ASU wants every game to go like the last 8 minutes of the previous contest with UCLA, where they didn't give up a single point. Can the lessons learned in that game be applied to a full tilt?
The ASU zone was fantastic, shutting down interior play and limiting the midrange game. UCLA only shot 49% from the field, while ASU was 60%. You can't win when you're not making the most of your opportunities.
Arizona State has officially arrived in the hearts and minds of college basketball fans. We have a true star baller, a solid interior man, and some great shooting role players. As a fan, I cannot be happier. March should be an interesting month in Tempe for the first time in a long while.