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Depth reaches breaking point for ASU men's basketball in loss to UCLA

The Sun Devils are out of options and out of gas

UCLA sophomore guard Aaron Holiday (3) drives towards the basket with ASU junior guard Tra Holder (0) guarding during a men's basketball game versus the Arizona State Sun Devils in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. ASU lost the game 87-75. (Josh Orcutt/State Press)
UCLA sophomore guard Aaron Holiday (3) drives towards the basket with ASU junior guard Tra Holder (0) guarding during a men's basketball game versus the Arizona State Sun Devils in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. ASU lost the game 87-75. (Josh Orcutt/State Press)

Head coach Bobby Hurley has expressed confidence in his team all season, despite a severe lack of depth. Never before had that shortcoming been so exploited than Thursday, when ASU men's basketball lost 87-75 to No. 5 UCLA at Wells Fargo Arena.

Hurley's starters played 199 of the possible 200 distributed minutes, with freshman forward Ramon Vila picking up the lone bench appearance.

"I rarely came out of the game (when I played)," Hurley said with a smirk. "Maybe that was my thought for the five guys tonight."

An ASU team that lost Sam Cunliffe to a transfer, Vitaliy Shibel to injury and Romello White to academic ineligibility could use all three right about now. In a game like Thursday's, where the Sun Devils (13-16, 6-10 Pac-12) stuck with the Bruins (25-3, 12-3 Pac-12) for pretty much the entire contest, their presence could have made the difference down the stretch.

"They have bigs that are gonna be top-20 picks in the NBA Draft," junior Kodi Justice said of UCLA. "Even if we had bigs, they're still gonna put up numbers.

"If we come up with a few more rebounds here and a few more stops there, we might see a different result."

Many of those rebounds and stops would have been made easier if not for fatigue and a lack of size. There were possessions throughout the game where UCLA just bullied ASU in the post when its offense wasn't playing up to its usual standard.

This is a luxury that exists primarily due to a lack of personnel for the Sun Devils. Size is one thing, but hanging with a team as fast and athletic as the Bruins requires a herculean effort — even if you have subs to spare.

"We fought hard," senior Torian Graham, who finished with 28 points to lead all scorers, said. "That's pretty much all you can ask for most of the time."

The first sub of the game came at the 13:06 mark of the second half. Vila's one minute of action didn't make much of an impact and ASU was gassed by the time the final five minutes rolled around. The Sun Devils fought hard, but a lack of size was glaring and a close game quickly fell out of reach.

An exasperated Hurley said UCLA's length bothered his team all night.

"It seemed like (Thomas) Welsh just had to extend his arm and that was good enough over Tra (Holder) or Shannon (Evans)," Hurley said. "We've been doing this all year."

There was an inflection in Hurley's voice that is rarely heard from the intense, vocal former point guard. But despite his frustration, he hasn't adopted a defeated attitude and neither has his team. 

This is the mark of a young group that's taking lessons out of struggles and getting visibly better as a result. You don't play a close game with the No. 5 team in the country by accident.

As their season winds down and the Pac-12 tournament approaches, the Sun Devils have plenty to build on — just not enough builders.


Reach the reporter at rclarke6@asu.edu or follow @RyanTClarke on Twitter.

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