TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State trumped UCLA’s statement victory in Tucson on Thursday with a statement weekend of its own.
If it wasn’t obvious already, there is a new contender in the muscled-up Pac-12, and the Sun Devils supplied more evidence with a convincing 78-60 victory over UCLA at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday afternoon, its most significant victory since the days of James Harden.
Jordan Bachynski dominated the paint against the smaller, less-physical Bruins, Carrick Felix had another double-double and Jahii Carson effectively ran the show as Arizona State (16-4, 5-2) followed its overtime victory against USC on Thursday by handling UCLA (16-5, 6-2) its worst loss of the season, two days after the Bruins outplayed No. 6 Arizona.
ASU’s 17-point loss to Arizona the previous Saturday, a two-point game until Carson committed his fourth foul midway through the second half, appeared to supply motivation for the USC/UCLA series, which Carson earlier in the week called a “must sweep.”
“We never gave up. Our heads never dropped. We knew when we lost to the U of A, we had to come out here and get a must-win sweep against these L.A. teams,” Carson said.
“We knew a sweep would give other teams in our conference an alert and put their antennas up that we are not going away so fast. Our confidence is high now. I think we’re ready. I think our antennas are back up. I think our confidence is back up, and I think we are ready to go out there and win some more games.”
No. 16 Oregon leads the Pac-12, but Arizona State joined Arizona and UCLA as two-loss teams entering the final series of the first half next weekend.
Bachynski had career highs with 22 points and 15 rebounds, eight on the offensive end, throwing his weight around against a Bruins team that seemed leery of contact. ASU had a 53-33 rebounding edge, its greatest margin in coach Herb Sendek’s seven seasons here, and had 13 second-chance points. ASU had a 46-26 edge on points in the paint.
Sendek took Bachynski out 3 ½ minutes into the game and had a short conversation, and when Bachynski returned five minutes later, he was a new man. He scored eight of the Sun Devils’ next 10 points on shots around the rim, and his pick-and-roll layup off a Felix feed gave ASU a 22-19 lead, a lead it never lost.
“We needed more out of me,” Bachynski said. “I knew I needed to step up. So I reset mentally and went back out.”
Bachynski’s short shot in the lane 90 seconds into the second half gave ASU a 43-33 lead, and UCLA never found a comeback, getting as close as nine points only three times thereafter.
Bachynski also had six blocked shots and the Sun Devils held UCLA to 34.7 percent shooting from the field.
“You got to learn. Now he (Bachynski) has blocked two or three shots and we kept trying to test him and he kept blocking them. He’s second in the country in blocked shots. He’s a really good player. I told our guys last night in our scouting report he is going to make a lot of money playing basketball,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
Freshmen Jordan Adams (19 points) and Shabazz Muhammad (18) led UCLA in scoring, but the Bruins did not have many other weapons. Forward Travis Wear, averaging 14.4 points a game in conference play, did not dress after suffering a concussion in the first half of an 84-73 victory at Arizona on Thursday. Twin brother David Wear started in his place, and there was a dropoff.
Too, ASU assistant coach Eric Musselman, who prepared the scouting report on UCLA, added a defensive wrinkle to help contain Adams and Muhammad, with Carson helping off screens. Adams and Muhammad were 15 for 32; the other Bruins were 10 for 40. The Sun Devils also limited UCLA to six transition points, another area of emphasis.
Felix had 20 points (on 8-of-12 shooting) and 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year. Jon Gilling added seven points, 12 rebounds and a career-high eight assists, and Carson had 12 points and eight assists while playing the full 40 minutes. After scoring 28 points against USC, Evan Gordon had 12 points.
“We could go down the list of guys… It was a day when everybody performed his role well. The defensive end of the floor, probably more than anything, was the difference for us. Defensively, we were locked in mentally, good attention to detail, and played with a lot of energy and tremendous heart,” Sendek said.
ASU talked in the preseason about striving to be an elite team. Asked about that following the UCLA game, the Sun Devils were somewhat muted.
“I think we’re getting close. I think we still have some stuff we need to clean up. We have to continue to get better. To stay consistent, is the key for us. I definitely think we are on our way. We just have to keep chipping away and keep working,” Felix said.