If the Arizona State basketball team was supposed to show up tired to Saturday's matinee against the UCLA Bruins, the players certainly didn't know it. After needing an exhausting overtime period to outlast the USC Trojans on Thursday night, the Sun Devils won an emotionally charged and energetic thriller over the Bruins by a final of 78-60.
Despite having four players play at least 40 minutes against the Trojans, the Sun Devils returned to Wells Fargo Arena less than 48 hours later to shock a talented UCLA squad.
After sitting out crucial minutes in the win over USC, 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski came out determined to wreak havoc against UCLA.
"I've had a slump, I know that I can make those baskets and it's just applying that to the game," Bachynski said.
The junior post has struggled at times during Pac-12 conference play, but Saturday was his time to shine. Bachynski delivered a career-high 22 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, and six blocks in his finest outing of the season.
"I knew what I had to do and that makes a big difference. That just comes down to me understanding the patience that I need to have," Bachynski said.
In the first half, the Sun Devils focused on diversifying the offense and locking down the three potent freshman scorers for UCLA. The highly touted trio of Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, and Shabazz Muhammad came into the game with the expectation of having their way against another conference opponent, but they encountered a Sun Devil defense eager to lock them down.
Behind a hard-nosed defensive effort from Evan Gordon, Jonathan Gilling, and Carrick Felix, Arizona State limited the Bruins to 41 percent shooting in the first half, and just 29 percent in the second half.
"Our guys defensively were really locked in mentally, good attention to detail, and played with a lot of effort, a lot of energy, and tremendous heart," Coach Sendek said.
With the defensive mindset in check, the Sun Devils were able to push the tempo on the offensive end of the floor and dictate the flow of the game.
Even though he scored just 12 points, floor general Jahii Carson had another productive outing in his matchup with seasoned Pac-12 point guard Larry Drew II. The Sun Devils go as Carson goes, and his eight assists showed off the versatility in his game.
"We owe a lot to Jahii...The ball is in his hand so much and he has a great ability to make his teammates better and he just kind of controls thing for us. He's given us a level of steadiness at point guard," Coach Sendek said.
As Carson dished out dimes, every Sun Devil player found themselves with opportunities to score on the offensive end. Evan Gordon started hot, Carrick Felix scored from all over the court, and Jordan Bachynski dominated the paint.
The Sun Devils used a frenetic pace in the first half to gain a 39-33 halftime advantage, but never relented in a fantastic second half effort.
Arizona State never lost the spark with which it opened Saturday's contest with, and rode the energy to an 18-point victory that accentuates a 16-4 record nicely.
All season long, Arizona State has had to earn the respect of their opponents, the media, and even their fans. For weeks, people doubted the strength of the maroon and gold and whether or not this team could win the big games. Today, the Sun Devils stood up to the challenge posed by the UCLA Bruins and played their best game of the season.