ASU MBB: Sun Devils Face Top-Five UCLA in Westwood

After showing resiliency in a 91-75 loss to No. 14 Arizona, ASU Basketball has another tough test against No. 3 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

For much of Bobby Hurley’s second season in Tempe, the Arizona State Sun Devils have played the role of underdog largely in part to another daunting schedule.  With a showdown at No. 3 UCLA (18-1, 5-1) looming, the Sun Devils (9-9, 2-3) look to earn their first win over a ranked team in 2017.

Following its worst season in Westwood in six years, UCLA looks to have returned to the upper echelon of college basketball on the backs of superstar freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. The 18-1 start by the Bruins is the team’s best since 2006, a year that culminated in a Final Four appearance.

The game will feature two of the top offenses in the Pac-12 headlined by stellar guard play and no shortage of three-point shots.

For ASU, its trio of guards will look to build off a hot second-half shooting performance in Tucson and will need big performances from Torian Graham, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II to keep pace with UCLA’s high-octane offense.

As for the Bruins, head coach Steve Alford has the second-best three-point shooting unit in the country as his team shoots over 43 percent from deep led by a near-47 percent clip from senior Bryce Alford. The high success-rate from beyond the arc can be attributed to how well the guards move the ball as UCLA leads the NCAA in assists per game.

In addition to the younger Alford, UCLA has a loaded backcourt with Ball as well as Isaac Hamilton and a key reserve in Aaron Holiday. Ball and Hamilton are 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5 respectively and will be able to find better shots against smaller guards.

On the low block, the Sun Devils will be tested by both Leaf and 7-footer Thomas Welsh. As a freshman, Leaf has shot 64 percent from the floor and grabbed over eight rebounds per contest, doing most of his damage from below the free-throw line but can also step out and make threes.

Forward Obinna Oleka continues to be a consistent factor for the Sun Devils, averaging a double-double and will need help from freshmen Ramon Vila and Jethro Thishumpa to limit second-chance points.

If the Sun Devils hope to remain competitive against a top-five team on the road, they need to capitalize on turnovers, limit the Bruins on the offensive glass and slow the down the pace of the UCLA offense. ASU needs to get comfortable quickly in front of a hostile crowd as they can’t afford to fall behind early.

The Sun Devils will tip off from Pauley Pavilion at 9 p.m. MST and the game can be seen on Fox Sports 1.

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