Sunday night's game for the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells Fargo Arena was brimming with opportunity. There was the chance to win three straight games for the first time since December. There was the opportunity to pick up two quality wins in the span of three days.
And while a run at the NCAA Tournament seems like a long shot at this point, a sliver of hope still remained thanks to a loaded schedule in the final three weeks of the regular season.
Yes, Sunday's game provided ample possibilities for a team desperately needing something to go right.
The UCLA Bruins had other plans. Using a big second half and some near-automatic free throw shooting, UCLA (14-11, 4-7 Pac-12) ended up cruising to a 78-65 victory on Valentine's Day in Tempe.
"It really felt like we were on the verge of something after Friday night," said first-year ASU coach Bobby Hurley. "Like what has happened for most of this year, we have seen progress and regression. And we regressed again tonight."
Forward Jonah Bolden led the way for the Bruins, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Arizona State guard Andre Spight led the way for his team, scoring a career high 21 points.
As you would expect from two teams who absolutely love shooting the ball, a cold start did not deter either UCLA or Arizona State from letting the rock fly. The Sun Devils made five of six three-point attempts in a six minute span to give them a 26-23 advantage, but the Bruins answered right back with a Gyorgy Goloman triple to pull even.
The rest of the half remained a back-and-forth affair, with neither team holding a lead of more than five points.
That 37-32 lead for the visiting team was quickly trimmed back down to two thanks to a three-ball from Kodi Justice, and the score remained 37-35 at the halftime break after a couple of empty possessions for both teams in the final minute.
"We made shots," Justice said when talking about the first 20 minutes. "We were playing together."
The game took a turn in the first six minutes of the second half, as the Bruins used an 11-5 run to open up a comfortable eight-point lead. Spight (and others) tried to shoot the maroon and gold back into the game, but the shots were just not falling often enough to get the team to within striking distance.
"We were missing open looks and easy layups and the next thing you know, we are down 13," said Justice. "That's how we kill ourselves — at the free throw line and by (missing) open shots."
A trio of makes at the free throw line for Spight (which was just one of three, three-shot free throw attempts he would get in the second half) pulled Arizona State to within 58-53 with nine minutes still remaining. But just as it looked as if the momentum was swinging their way, the Bruins responded.
A 15-3 binge buried the Sun Devils as Hurley's team could not come up with a basket to save their life. By the time Obinna Oleka finally found a hole in the defense and slashed his way through the paint for a layup, the score was 73-58 and just 90 seconds remained.
"We just can't afford the missed free throws, layups, and open three-point shots" Hurley said. "It was a combination of a lot of things."
Spight knocked down a couple of three-pointers in the final minute of the contest, but it was too little, too late for ASU. The final score ended up being 78-65.
Arizona State dropped to 14-12 (4-9) with the loss, and the schedule only gets tougher from here on out. A trip to Tucson to face the Arizona Wildcats awaits the team on Wednesday, and they will stay on the road after that to face both Utah and Colorado.
Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. (MT) on Wednesday at the McKale Center and the game will be televised by ESPN2.