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ASU Basketball: Second Half Comeback Attempt Falls Short in Loss to UCLA

Lightning doesn’t strike twice

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at UCLA Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State entered Monday night playing their best stretch of basketball in this season. Three straight wins, including two victories by 20 points or more, had the Sun Devils primed for a rematch against No. 12 UCLA. But lightning couldn’t strike twice in one month, and the Bruins pulled away for a comfortable 66-52 victory.

The Bruins offense was not in full flight without guards Tyger Campbell and Peyton Watson. Defensively, the Sun Devils faced a completely different challenge with Jaylen Clark, the backup to the floor general Campbell, who proved more willing to score and less willing to pass than Campbell.

Clark shot 7 for 16 from the field and added 16 points to tie for the team lead with swingman Jules Bernard. But part of the reason for the low scoring total could be found in Clark’s zero assists.

UCLA has an offense that is predicated on sharing the ball and putting their tremendous midrange shooters in advantageous positions on the floor. Instead, it was Clark and Bernard combining for 26 shot attempts while the dynamic scoring pair of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang lifted just 17 from the floor.

However slow the start was for the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion, they were made to look like 1990s UNLV team coached by Jerry Tarkanian when compared to the first 20 minutes on offense for the Sun Devils.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago it was momentum building and sustaining first half three-pointers that allowed Arizona State to maintain stride with UCLA in Tempe. Those triples were nowhere to be found throughout the entirety of the game Monday night.

An abysmal first half of 1 for 8 on 3-pointers (12.5%) only slightly improved to 5 for 19 (26.3%) by the game’s conclusion. Sophomore DJ Horne, the Sun Devils most prolific and counted on shooter, did not register a point in the first 20 minutes. Only guard Marreon Jackson was able to find success in the scoring column in that stretch, as his seven points kept the Sun Devils from being wiped out of Westwood before halftime.

Still, there was a large point deficit to summit for Arizona State as the team retreated into the locker room at the break. Yet even though the offense of the last two contests did not make the trip, the defensive intensity of the majority of this season did. At the half, despite scoring 21 points, the Sun Devils hadn’t lost sight of the Bruins, and took the court to begin the second half down 34-21 with an opportunity to claw back into the low-scoring affair.

It did not take long for the Sun Devils to accomplish their primary mission coming out of the locker room. In the first four minutes of the half, Horne scored nine points to fuel the Sun Devils on offense. The same stingy defense picked up where they left off, and by the midway point of the second half, a Kimani Lawrence layup had the score at 43-41, UCLA.

Right as the Sun Devils’ best 3-point shooter in Horne was ready to catch fire, the Bruins answer to Horne, guard David Singleton, hit two 3-pointers in 32 seconds to push his team ahead by four, and the Sun Devils would get no closer for the rest of the contest.

The scoring well dried for Horne. The other guards in Jackson, Luther Muhammad, and Jay Heath added some supplementary scoring throughout the night, but nobody was able to reach double figures. Down low, the size of the No. 12 Bruins was able to neutralize Jalen Graham and Kimani Lawrence for the most part.

Much like in their loss to Washington, the last before Monday night for Arizona State, a disparity of free-throws played a role in deciding the outcome. Another night where the Sun Devils allowed 20 free-throws and attempted under 10 themselves.

The end has come for another stretch of three games in five days for Arizona State. Despite their fabled conditioning, weary legs were present on Monday night as the Sun Devils scored their lowest total since 50 points in a Jan. 2 loss to Cal. It should be noted that Cal loss was the first game back from a COVID-19 hiatus that lasted around two weeks.

The Sun Devils will remain on the road, and will have two days to rest and recover before their next game, Thursday night in Boulder against Colorado. The Sun Devils lost to the Buffaloes 75-57 the last time those sides faced up earlier this season.

Tip-off for that game is slated for 6 p.m. MST.