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ASU vs. UCLA: Sun Devils outmatched by No. 5 Bruins, 87-75

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The Sun Devils just couldn’t pull it off Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, it’s just not your night.

The Arizona State Sun Devils were simply outmatched and overpowered by the No. 5 UCLA Bruins during a 87-75 loss to in front of over 10,000 inside Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday night.

ASU guard Torian Graham poured in a game-high 28 points (7-for-14 from 3-point range), and the Sun Devils’ starters logged a combined 199 minutes of time on the floor out of 200 possible. The effort wasn’t enough against an ultra-talented Bruins’ squad, however the Sun Devils (13-16, 6-10 Pac-12) didn’t simply concede the bout, and ASU coach Bobby Hurley commended his team’s commitment.

“I respect the effort of the team,” he said. “We hung in there as best we could, in terms of defense.”

Early on, ASU held the scoring advantage through the heart of the first half as UCLA struggled to find the basket.

The Bruins made just two of their opening 10 field-goal attempts, allowing the Sun Devils to jump out to a 14-10 lead. The Sun Devils made three of their four 3-point attempts during the stretch.

The slim margin wasn’t sustainable, as the Bruins’ size and length appeared too much for Hurley’s unit to handle early; a trend which proved true throughout the game.

UCLA outrebounded ASU 49-30, and finished the contest with a 17-10 advantage in offensive boards that translated to 31 second-chance points for the Bruins.

Hurley said it felt like even when ASU was in good position to claim a rebound, the towering UCLA frontcourt used its superior length and size to grab possession.

“It seemed like (UCLA center Thomas Welsh) just had to extend his arm and that was good enough over (ASU guard Tra Holder) or (ASU guard Shannon Evans II) at times when they did get the offensive rebounds,” he said. “We know that it’s definitely a tradeoff. We’ve been doing this all year. We gotta be more committed to make sure everyone’s in there battling and not leaving anyone on an island trying to rebound with a 7-footer.”

Welsh (11 rebounds) and forward T.J. Leaf (nine rebounds) bullied the Sun Devils on the glass, helping to pull UCLA out of its offensive funk to eventually push the visitors to a 45-36 halftime lead.

“They have players that are big that are in the top 20 of the NBA draft, so even if we had bigs, they’re still gonna put up numbers,” said junior guard Kodi Justice.

Graham scored 17 points in the first half to keep the Sun Devils alive, despite the Sun Devils conceding 32 points in the paint through the frame. Hurley said the transfer’s effort was outstanding.

“He’s been doing this the most of the way, and he looked really good out there with a lot of good players,” the second-year coach said.

Graham’s hot shooting carried over into the start of the second half, when the senior rattled off five straight points, highlighting a 7-0 ASU run to making the score 45-43 nearly three minutes out of the the intermission.

Hurley said the effort out of the break was terrific.

“I love how we competed coming out of the locker room to start the second half,” he said. “Put us right back in the game with the way we were defending and scoring on offense.”

The effort wasn’t sustainable, however. The Sun Devils trailed by one before the Bruins opened a 19-8 run spanning over six minutes to take a 69-57 lead with 6:18 left to play.

That deficit grew to 18 with under five minutes left. Justice drained three triples down the stretch to help draw the hosts within nine, but UCLA was able to stave off the comeback try, hanging on for a 12-point win.

The Sun Devils shot 38.8 percent from the field, while the Bruins made 48.5 percent of their attempts.

ASU’s lone substitution throughout the entire contest occurred when forward Ramon Vila entered with 13:06 remaining in the game and logged one minute. Hurley said when he attempted to make a change in the first half, his starters were adamant they didn’t want to exit the game.

“They’re warriors,” Hurley said. “I trust those guys. It was more of a feel thing to stick with those guys most of the way.”

“If you put your five best players out there, you’re rolling with it,” Justice said of the starters’ minutes. “I feel like we battled the whole game. We battled the whole time, and I wouldn’t trade the five for everybody.”

While the hard play is commendable, the result dumps the Sun Devils to a second straight loss, and their 10th conference loss with two games left.

Hurley credited UCLA’s balance, recognizing the Bruins’ inside scoring and experience, in tandem with their perimeter play.

“They’re the real deal looking at their chances just moving forward, but (I’m) proud of how we fought and competed today,” Hurley said. “It’s hard to be upset because I saw how they competed and how much energy they expended playing tonight, and I’m very proud of that.”

The Sun Devils will next host the USC Trojans on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time, before concluding their 2016-17 campaign with a battle against rival No. 4 Arizona on March 4.

Notes

  • ASU didn’t substitute any players during the first half, and didn’t make a substitution until the 13:06 mark in the second half (Ramon Vila for Kodi Justice).
  • UCLA’s Lonzo Ball “tweaked his ankle” during the first half of Thursday’s contest according to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein. He returned to the game shortly after visiting the locker room for evaluation.