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Bruins pull Pac-12 opener out of their hat

UCLA rallies from 15 points behind in the second half to defeat Arizona State, 80-75, and reach semifinal matchup against Arizona.

March 14, 2013|By Chris Foster

LAS VEGAS — Come on down and see the UCLA circus.

The Bruins have pitched the big tent at the MGM Grand Garden Arena this week, turning their part of the Pac-12 tournament into a "step right up and see the show" event.

Thursday brought a first-half vanishing act, followed by a walk along the high wire. And after the No. 21 Bruins had rallied from a 15-point deficit for an 80-75 victory over Arizona State, the grand finale included harsh words, technical fouls and a chuckle from Bruins guard Kyle Anderson.

When the sawdust settled, the Bruins had reached the semifinals with their own brand of play.

"I guess 'controlled chaos' is a perfect term for it," Anderson said.

Whatever it is, the Bruins seem perfect for the neon lights here. The curtain goes up on Act II Friday, when UCLA (24-8) faces No. 18 Arizona (25-6).

Not even the Bruins know what to expect.

"We have a team with multiple personalities," said guard Larry Drew II, whose season-high 20 points kept UCLA from collapse. "Off the court, it's jokes left and right. Guys clowning each other all day."

On the court, he said, "it's a roller coaster ride." But, Drew added, "when the lights go on, we tend to show up."

The lights apparently didn't go on until the final 16 minutes. Arizona State (21-12) led, 53-38, when the Bruins picked up the pace and their personalities emerged.

Shabazz Muhammad scored 13 of his 16 points after that, including a fastbreak that he finished with a dunk over 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski.

"That kind of fired his teammates up," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said during his postgame remarks, prompting a "yeah," from Muhammad in return.

Drew had dragged the Bruins along most of the game, making eight of 10 shots. He hit two three-pointers in the last five minutes. Both gave UCLA leads.

"Larry was an all-star today," forward Travis Wear said.

Wear closed. He made two free throws to tie the score, 74-74, then hit two jumpers, giving the Bruins a 78-75 lead with 12 seconds left.

"I don't know why we're like this," Wear said. "We're a little different every game. Tonight we won on the boards. We haven't done that in a while."

UCLA was outrebounded in all but two conference games, yet had a 39-31 edge over Arizona State. Muhammad had nine rebounds, including six on offense.

"It was a very emotional game," Drew said.

Right up until the end.

With the Bruins up by three, Arizona State's Jonathan Gilling missed a three-point shot with three seconds left. Muhammad was fouled, with Carrick Felix adding a little kick while by stepping over him. Muhammad, in turn, gave Felix an earful and players had to be ushered to neutral corners, with two players on both teams getting technical fouls as parting gifts.

"You've got something to say to somebody, say it to them after the game in the hotel or something, but not out there on court," Drew said.

The moment meshed with the Bruins' persona.

"Jordan [Adams] asked me, 'Why is everybody so riled up?' " Drew said. "I told him, 'It's like the Hunger Games. We're fighting for our lives.'"

The Bruins have trained for that. They had a 7-1 record in Pac-12 regular-season games decided in the last two minutes. They were in that uncomfortable zone again Thursday.

"We know how to handle those situations," Wear said. "That helps us come tournament time."

It's that time again Friday. Who knows what personality UCLA will bring?

"As long as we keep winning," said Wear's twin, David, "I'm fine with that."

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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