As ASU dribbled out the clock in the final seconds of the half Saturday, UCLA freshman guard Jordan Adams snuck up behind junior guard Evan Gordon and stole the ball.
Adams raced down the floor in attempt to get an easy bucket right before the buzzer, but senior wing Carrick Felix chased Adams down and blocked his layup as time expired.
That final play wasn’t significant in the final outcome with the Sun Devils (16-4, 5-2 Pac-12) defeating the Bruins (16-5, 6-2 Pac-12) 78-60, but it was a microcosm of ASU’s effort and UCLA’s lack thereof for 40 minutes.
“I’ve always been taught never to quit,” Felix said. “Even though we were up, I was always taught to never stop playing until the buzzer goes off. I saw him going down there trying to go get a dunk, so I just hustled like I always do.”
The Sun Devils outplayed the Bruins and dominated the game with their hustle and effort. Felix led the charge by accomplishing the difficult task of guarding freshman wing Shabazz Muhammad and still producing offensively. Felix had 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 11 rebounds while containing Muhammad to 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
“It was jut another chapter in what has to be, to me, one of the great all-time senior years,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “He’s just doing it night-in, night-out consistently on both ends of the floor. …The heart that he’s playing with, it’s just fun to watch. You just can’t help but feel good for him, because none of this has come easy. None of it has come instantaneous.”
Junior center Jordan Bachynski said the team’s two keys to the game were rebounding and 50-50 balls, where both teams have an equal chance at receiving possession.
They outrebounded the Bruins by 20, 49-29. It’s the biggest rebound margin ASU had under Sendek. Bachynski broke out of a slump and had 22 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and six blocks. He’s failed to reach double figures in points during the last three games.
He was benched in the early part of the first half for his slow play, but Bachynski dominated when he returned at the 11:53 mark in the first half. Bachynski made two great moves in the paint on consecutive possessions to get him going and scored 14 points in the half.
“Everyone knows I’ve had a slump the past couple games,” Bachynski said. “It’s just I know I can make those baskets and just applying that in the game, because, in practice, I never miss. We were always shooting those jump hooks. It just took time, I guess. I had to get my confidence back.”
The Sun Devils were able to defeat the Bruins, who beat UA in Tucson on Thursday, despite a poor shooting performance from redshirt freshman point guard Jahii Carson. He scored 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting, but the Sun Devils have relied on his consistent ability to find the open man and create good looks for his teammates. Carson finished with eight assists.
“I think our guys more than anything are playing together,” Sendek said. “They really understand each other and what we’re trying to accomplish. We owe a lot to Jahii. Even though he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, the ball is in his hands so much and he has a great ability of making his teammates better. He just kind of controls things for us. Jahii is giving us a role of steadiness at point guard.”
While Adams wasn’t able to score on the last possession, he led the Bruins in scoring with 19 points. They played without redshirt junior forward Travis Wear, who suffered a concussion Thursday against UA. His brother, redshirt junior forward David Wear, struggled throughout the game. He finished with five points on 2-of-12 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds.
“It was most definitely good for us,” Felix said about the absence of Travis. “Both players, they’re good. The one that sat out today would’ve been a good help for them.”
ASU swept the southern California schools this week, as it also defeated USC 98-93 Thursday in overtime. Its win over UCLA also gives the program a realistic chance at making the NCAA Tournament. Prior to Saturday’s resume boosting victory, the Sun Devils’ biggest win came against Colorado.
“I still think we got some things that we got to clean up but we just got to continue to get better each and every day,” Felix said. “Staying consistent is the key for us. I think we’re on our way. We just got to keep chipping away and just working every day.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org