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Bruins get shut down at the finish

Sun Devils make up an 11-point deficit in the final minutes and win at Pauley Pavilion.

January 18, 2009|David Wharton

Pick a moment, a meaningful statistic, anything that might explain UCLA's frustration.

Start with the final eight minutes of regulation, an interminable stretch during which the Bruins squandered an 11-point lead by failing to score a single point.

Add a careless foul that sent the game into overtime.

Finish with the clock ticking down, a chance to tie, a few aimless passes and not even a shot.

"We were just trying our hardest out there, trying to get baskets," forward Josh Shipp said. "I don't know what to tell you."

The score tells it all, the ninth-ranked Bruins falling to 16th-ranked Arizona State, 61-58, in overtime at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

One defeat does not ruin a season -- UCLA fell to 14-3, 4-1 in Pacific 10 Conference play -- but the nature of this loss had Coach Ben Howland and his players struggling to reconstruct what had transpired.

Even Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek acted surprised, the first word out of his mouth: "Wow."

This conference showdown felt big from the start, with 11,659 fans and a network broadcast crew on hand. John Wooden sat behind the UCLA bench as football Coach Rick Neuheisel made the rounds before tipoff. Former stars Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute -- their respective NBA teams in town -- attended.

They watched Arizona State (15-3, 4-2) open an early lead, having success with a matchup zone defense. Then UCLA started penetrating, scoring in the lane and kicking the ball out for open jumpers.

After pulling to within 27-25 at halftime, the Bruins went on a 10-2 run at the start of the second half, stretching their lead to 54-43 on swingman Michael Roll's jumper with 8:14 left in regulation.

That's when a team growing more confident on offense the last few weeks -- especially against the zone -- made an abrupt U-turn. That's when the meltdown began.

It started, perhaps, on the Arizona State bench, where Sendek gathered his players during a timeout.

"We just talked about our defense again. And the fact that UCLA was getting stops and we weren't," he recalled. "Unless that changed, we weren't winning."

Arizona State buckled down defensively, but the UCLA players also blamed themselves for growing complacent. Howland suggested that he didn't use his bench enough, that his team wore down.

Either way, center Alfred Aboya said, "We didn't look to drive. We just kept passing the ball on the perimeter. We were trying to shoot it with like five seconds on the shot clock."

Shot after shot missed as the Bruins tried to hang on. Aboya explained: "Going back on defense, we said, 'OK, if we don't score, they can't score.' "

But Arizona State guard James Harden was heating up.

The Pac-10's leading scorer, Harden had struggled at USC on Thursday. Now, he took control with UCLA hesitant to double-team, worried about players stationed in the corners, waiting for a pass. Harden kept running isolation plays, beating his man off the dribble, chipping away at the lead.

"There is no magical formula," Sendek said. "We just played one possession at a time."

The Bruins still had a chance to win, holding a two-point edge with 22 seconds remaining, but Shipp fouled Harden on the dribble, far from the basket.

"Obviously we don't foul [in that situation]," Howland said. "Josh knows that."

Two free throws by Harden and a missed jump shot by UCLA guard Darren Collison sent the game into overtime at 54-54.

UCLA finally scored its first points in almost 10 minutes on a pair of Collison free throws and its first basket in more than 12 minutes on Aboya's baseline jumper, but still couldn't stop Harden.

Down by three with 11 seconds remaining, the Bruins had time for one last bit of futility, managing only a few passes and no shot as time ran out.

"We brought it up too slowly," Howland said. "And, again, that's my responsibility."

Harden finished with a game-high 24 points. The Bruins, led by Shipp's 16, shot 42% from the field, well below their season average.

Only one number really mattered. The Bruins knew they might have escaped with a win if, at some point during those eight minutes, the ball had gone in the basket just once.

"Definitely," Aboya said, "it was frustrating."


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