A UCLA clunker chock full of clangers

Bruins' overtime loss to Arizona State, in which they go 12 minutes 20 seconds without a basket against Sun Devils' wicked zone, could provide a blueprint for future opponents.

January 18, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

It may have been the first time in the glorious history of UCLA basketball at Pauley Pavilion that one Bruins fan could turn to another and legitimately ask: "Did they nail a lid on our rim?"

My kingdom for a horse -- or a layup.

They call it "hoops," and for a span of 12 minutes 20 seconds on Saturday, UCLA couldn't buy one.

Not a jump shot, not a put-back, not a slam dunk . . . nada.

Arizona State's 61-58 overtime victory over UCLA was so stranglehold-strange.

At one point in Saturday's second half, after UCLA raced to an 11-point lead, we were ready to declare the Pac-10 season over.

The Bruins seem poised to hand the team picked to finish second its third conference loss before the Super Bowl.

See you all at the Pac-10 tournament in March at Staples Center.

And then Arizona State, in an almost desperate state, locked down and allowed UCLA one basket in the final 8:14 of regulation and five minutes of extra time.

Former Bruins center Kevin Love, who would have been a sophomore this season had he not opted out for the NBA, could only watch as a spectator from the second row.

Two days after falling down against USC, Arizona State stood up.

"That team," excited Sun Devils guard Jamelle McMillan said afterward of UCLA, "I don't think they've lost at home, ever -- in their whole history of the school."

Not quite, but we get his point. Former Arizona State coach Bill Frieder went 0-17 against UCLA, and Saturday's win improved the Sun Devils' all-time record at Pauley Pavilion to 6-26.

More than a loss, though, the game might have been a blueprint.

"I think so," McMillan said. "We broke down a little bit for a stretch, but overall, our game plan worked to perfection. It really kept them kind of guessing the whole game."

UCLA, meet the rest of your season.

The tape of Arizona State's tenacious 2-3 matchup-zone effort against UCLA should be whizzing around basketball offices throughout the Pac-10.

What the Sun Devils did to shut down UCLA over the final 13-odd minutes -- boy were they ever -- will be a slide show at Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek's next clinic.

UCLA knew it was going to see a lot of zone defenses this season, but nothing like this spike strip. Breaking into a bank might have been easier than busting into Arizona State's vault.

The hope for UCLA is that maybe, just maybe, only Arizona State plays it this way.

The Sun Devils held the Bruins 18 points below their season average of 76 points, and that included five minutes of overtime.

"That's their bread and butter," UCLA's Josh Shipp said of the zone. "That's what makes it so effective. They're working on that every day in practice. Not like it's something new to them."

UCLA didn't help itself by dribbling around the zone for 20 seconds or so before even trying to attack it.

The Bruins look confused at times, but boy that Darren Collison sure is a good dribbler.

Arizona State's star guard James Harden, who rebounded from his basket-less effort against USC on Thursday with eight baskets and 24 points Saturday, said UCLA's methodical approach did his team a favor.

"Definitely," Harden said. "They weren't getting as many transition buckets in the late second half. Guys were getting back on defense and we were making them go against our set defense, which [makes it] kind of tough to score against us."

What Arizona State did to improve to 15-3 overall and 4-2 in Pac-10 play took practice and patience.

Defense never makes the media guide cover -- it's usually 2% fun and 98% dirty work.

To sustain the intensity takes physical -- and mental -- toughness.

"Fatigue is going to set in, especially late in the game," McMillan explained. "Everybody had each other's back, trusted each other, we were there helping. Guys knew the next guy was going to rotate. That's what it takes -- everybody on the same page, everybody trusting each other."

Both teams wanted to win, but maybe Arizona State needed it more.

Falling to 3-3 in Pac-10 play would have put the Sun Devils three games behind UCLA in the conference race.

"Our sense of urgency was at an all-time high," McMillan said.

Sendek scoffed when someone suggested he might have found a way to corral one of the nation's top teams.

"We didn't stop them all 13 minutes," Sendek said. "They missed some open shots. A game like this that goes overtime, a shot here, a free throw there, one play called one way or another . . . and the result is different. And that's part of what drives coaches crazy and what adds to the great excitement of basketball."

Sendek said there was no magic potion. He did not, with a big stick, mix two parts witch hazel with one part castor oil.

What about herbs, Herb?

"I don't have any formula against UCLA, I guarantee you that," Sendek said. "We were fortunate to get a win today."


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