TEMPE - Arizona State (15-4, 6-2 Pac-12) couldn’t rally down the stretch to overcome No. 5 UCLA (17-2, 8-0) Thursday night in Tempe, falling 74-62.
The Bruins, who’ve now won 14 in a row, went on a 16-2 run in the last six minutes to run away with what was an extremely competitive and impressive game for both teams for the vast majority.
A packed house
One hour before tip-off, Desert Financial Arena’s student section was completely full in the lower bowl. Thousands more awaited entry to see who’d be first place in the Pac-12 at the end of the evening. Over 5,000 students filled the seats Thursday, which had never been done before at an ASU basketball game.
“There’s a reason why this building was filled,” coach Bobby Hurley said. That reason being that the Sun Devils had won its last five games, and was only one game off the Pac-12 lead coming into the matchup against Mick Cronin’s Top-5 Bruins squad. The energy radiating from DFA was strong enough to give any ordinary teenager superpowers.
“Everybody was jumping before the tip-off started, the student section was rocking before the tip-off,” freshman guard Austin Nunez said. He compared this crowd to some of the games during his recruiting visits, saying that they were “not like this at all.”
The electric atmosphere was even enough to give coach Hurley the chills.
“It was an unbelievable environment,” Hurley said. “I’ve played in a lot of big games as a player and coach, you get goosebumps coming out.” After both sides ran out of the tunnel to relentless boos and roaring cheers, all of the noise was suddenly replaced with the sound of meaningful basketball.
How it happened
The defensive intensity was there for both ASU and UCLA from the jump. The score was 5-5 after over six minutes of play thanks to two blocks from Warren Washington and four turnovers for each team. UCLA big-man Adem Bona coughed up five turnovers of his own in 13 minutes in the first half.
REJECTED ❌@5warrenw with an emphatic block!— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) January 20, 2023
DJ Horne (14 points) carried the offensive load in the first half, shooting 2-3 from three point range and sinking four free throws. To combat that, UCLA’s redshirt senior Tyger Campbell put up 13 points, getting to the line eight times in the first 20 minutes.
UCLA cut ASU’s lead from four to two after a pair of free throws from the aforementioned Campbell with three seconds left. Surely, Sun Devil fans were pleased with a lead over a top-ranked conference rival.
All of a sudden, everyone in the arena watched Desmond Cambridge Jr. (15) put up an answered prayer at the buzzer, sending everyone into a frenzy. The upset watch was on high alert.
Turnovers were a factor early on for ASU and UCLA with 9 and 10, respectively. “We didn’t take care of the ball well early in the game, but we had control as (it) went on,” Hurley said. The second half was comparatively better than the first in terms of turnovers, but a couple of early ones stung a bit.
Before little Johnny could even get his halftime popcorn, UCLA went on an 8-0 run in the first minute of the second half; an and-one, a three and a second chance bucket off of two straight turnovers quickly put the Bruins ahead 38-35.
Despite the hard jab, Desmond Cambridge Jr. had a counterpunch of his own, scoring three consecutive (electric) baskets to put his team back in front by six points with 14 minutes left. To pair with that, freshman Austin Nunez (10) was providing some key minutes off the bench with his play on the defensive end, particularly against Tyger Campbell.
“I wanted to take on the challenge because (Campbell) is an older player who’s done this at a high level,” Nunez said.
360 DUNK❗️@dezcambridgejr pulling out all the tricks!— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) January 20, 2023
Fans were fired up and eager to find out if the magic in the air was real.
“They earned the right to be in this game,” Hurley said.
For the next six minutes, ASU held onto its lead. The two sides were trading baskets, until UCLA’s David Singleton (21) hit a game-tying three pointer, putting the game at 57-57, and eventually took the lead at 58-57 on a Bona free throw.
From that moment on, UCLA went on its 16-2 run for the remainder of the game. The Sun Devils shot 1-8 in the final six minutes, including 0-4 from the field to end the game.
“We just couldn’t find an answer offensively,” Horne said. “They really started to turn it up a notch towards the end of the game.” UCLA was getting out in transition and knocking down shots ASU was able to contest in the first half.
“That school is rich in tradition, I’m sure they have a lot of guys that come in there and have experience in games like this – they just knew what to do at the end of the game,” Horne said.
The final score is what it is with the Bruins winning by 14, but it doesn’t exactly paint the whole picture regarding the level of competition this game provided. This matchup comes up again in March at UCLA, so you better believe the Sun Devils will feel good about its chances in that one.
ASU has a quick turnaround on Saturday at home against USC, who lost to Arizona yesterday but is finding its footing in the Pac-12. Hurley, genuinely, said his group gave it their best shot tonight and will have to build back up in the next 36 hours.
“We just have to keep winning basketball games and try to put ourselves into position to have these moments again,” Hurley said. “It’s not a Disney movie. There’s no fairytale.”
Tip-off Saturday is 8:20 MST.