TEMPE, ARIZ. — First came the indignity of trying to get off the court, the UCLA players fighting their way through hundreds of fans who rushed down from the stands.
"They were celebrating," swingman Josh Shipp said. "It happens."
Then came something even tougher: trying to explain what had happened.
Coach Ben Howland talked about a "bitter, disappointing loss" and a call that went against his team in the final minute. His players wondered if their defense -- their specialty -- had let them down.
There wasn't much else to say after the 11th-ranked Bruins lost to 18th-ranked Arizona State, 74-67, in a Pacific 10 Conference game at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday night.
"We thought things were going our way," Shipp said. "Unfortunately for us, we let it slip away."
The Bruins could have won their fifth in a row, but they fell to second place at 19-5, 8-3 in conference play. They also suffered a regular-season sweep against Arizona State, which climbed back into contention at 19-5, 8-4.
"To win the conference, you've got to beat the champion," Sun Devils guard Derek Glasser said. "They've been the champions for I don't know how long."
It might be tempting to say this game was decided by a critical call with 39 seconds remaining.
Driving to the basket, UCLA guard Darren Collison scored on a layup that appeared to tie the score, and, with the official's whistle, send Collison to the free-throw line. Then came the call: charging.
"I thought it was a block," Howland said. "I thought the guy was moving."
Collison thought so too, though he added: "The refs are going to make their calls. It is what it is."
Besides, the statistics told another story.
Arizona State shot a sizzling 60% -- 61% from three-point range -- with five players in double figures. Their star guard, James Harden, had 11 assists to go with 15 points.
All of which pointed to a strategic decision that UCLA made well before tipoff.
The Bruins had decided that they weren't going to let Harden beat them, so they double-teamed him at every opportunity. The problem was, he kept finding open teammates on the perimeter.
And those teammates kept scoring.
Even sophomore guard Ty Abbott knocked down three shots from three-point range, which was as many as he had made in the previous 11 conference games.
"Guys just stepped up and played well tonight," Harden said.
This game looked as if it might get out of hand, Arizona State opening an 11-point lead, when the Bruins found the defensive intensity that had carried them over the last few weeks.
Steals by Collison, Shipp and Michael Roll led to easy points. Then Roll made a pair of three-pointers, the second one at the buzzer, to tie the score at 35-35.
"We played a lot better today offensively than we played against them last time," Howland said.
Last time, at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA stalled with eight minutes left in regulation, going scoreless, before losing in overtime. They weren't about to let that happen again, not with so much at stake.
In addition to the conference ramifications, there was an ESPN audience watching. And, with the NBA All-Star game in Phoenix this weekend, Arizona State officials reported selling more than 50 tickets to pro scouts.
The teams put on a show in the second half, a back-and-forth affair that stayed close.
The Bruins continued to play tough defense and work the ball inside on offense. But Harden kept passing and Arizona State kept scoring.
"They're all good shooters," Roll said. "They kicked out and made the open shots."
In the final minutes, UCLA lost track of time and let the 35-second clock expire without taking a shot.
There was a technical foul on center Alfred Aboya for reaching across the line and touching the ball on an Arizona State inbounds play.
Little things that are tough to explain.
"It would have been a big win for us," Roll said. "Now we're back to battling with the rest of the conference."