Tip-off: 7 p.m. MT
Television: ESPN2 (Bill Walton and Dave Pasch on the call)
Wednesday night will surely be marked by more facial hair than usual at Wells Fargo Arena both in the stands and on the court. Beards will be given away in the student section. But the man they're honorably mocking, James Harden, will have his No. 13 raised to the rafters of Wells Fargo Arena when ASU meets UCLA.
While this season hasn't mirrored the Harden years in Tempe, a win over the Bruins would go a long way in keeping the program afloat for a CBI or NIT bid against the fourth ranked team in the conference.
ASU update 13-12 (5-7):
The Gerry Blakes show came to Seattle last Sunday. He scored 17 points in a span of 5:23 to help lift ASU past Washington 78-68. He finished with 23 points and Savon Goodman added 13 boards. It was the first time the Sun Devils won in Seattle since 2008. Blakes now leads the team with 11.4 points per game.
UCLA update 16-10 (8-5):
While the Bruins have a winning record, their only true marquee win was over No. 11 Utah at home. They've won five of their last six games, but lost by two points to a Cal team that ASU demolished on the road. On paper, UCLA is big. They don't have any players under 6-foot-3 and leading rebounder Keon Looney is a 6-foot-9 versatile big man at only 220 pounds. He's paired with 6-foot-9 junior Tony Parker who is averaging 10.6 points per game and the two make quite a pair. The Bruins are also deep with eight players averaging more than 10 minutes per game.
Keys to victory:
1. Let them shoot, go to the boards instead
UCLA shoots 42.7 percent from the field, 228th in the country. They also grab 39.8 boards per game, 13th in the country. This means they get a lot of second chance points which can be killer to any team. ASU of course should try and limit this by being physical in the paint, something Goodman has shown he can do but he'll need help as well. Jacobsen will need to find who he was from earlier in the season again with solid box outs and hip turns after the shots contested to make sure they come down with the rebound or UCLA gets called for over the back.
2. Feed Blakes
He tends to play his best basketball when he's clearly in a place mentally where he's really fired up and on a mission to succeed on the court. Halftime gives him a chance to reevaluate because he has been a second half player over the past three games. In the final 12 minutes against the Washington schools, he shot 12 of 19 from the field and 5 of 10 from three with 34 combined points. Something is clearly clicking again like it was early in non-conference play. UCLA will game plan for him and Steve Alford's club will be ready, but give Blakes a chance early and see if he can't work around it and continue to be successful.
3. Channel the beard
What makes James Harden so great is his ability to be unselfish and still be successful in scoring the ball. For every 30 or 40-point game he has, eight or nine assists to go with it isn't uncommon. UCLA averages 14 assists on 24 made baskets this season. Anything over half should be deemed impressive. Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes (game time decision Wednesday) both shoot better off the pass and the Sun Devils will be best served by not letting the ball stick.
Prediction: ASU has won three of the past five against UCLA at Wells Fargo Arena, and if you'll recall the last home game against Arizona, some pretty magical stuff happened. The last time ASU swept the season series against the Bruins was coincidentally James Harden's sophomore year. In spite of a tougher season, the Sun Devils are coming off a road win in Washington they should be proud of and the Harden jersey raising should have Wells Fargo Arena louder than usual. I think the basketball gods smile upon ASU Wednesday night.
ASU- 80 UCLA- 74