No. 3 UCLA looks to avoid pitfall vs. Arizona State
A weekend showdown with No. 14 Arizona looms large on UCLA’s upcoming schedule, but the third-ranked Bruins need to remain focused on the task at hand when they entertain Arizona State in a Pac-12 Conference game Thursday at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
UCLA (18-1, 5-1 Pac-12) has won five in a row since sustaining an 89-87 loss to No. 11 Oregon. The Bruins are enjoying their best start since winning 18 of their first 19 games to start the 2006-07 season.
Arizona State (9-9, 2-3) has lost two in a row and three of its last four. The Sun Devils have dropped five of their last six and 18 of their last 23 against UCLA.
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The Bruins swept their Rocky Mountain road trip last week, beating Colorado 104-89 and Utah 83-82. Lonzo Ball had 17 points and eight assists in the win over Colorado. TJ Leaf recorded his ninth double-double of the season, posting 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“I’m just proud of our guys’ effort,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but we found a way to win. I just can’t say enough about this team. We are almost at 20 games and this team continues to do things that breed winning.”
Bryce Alford was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging 26 points and shooting 57.1 percent from 3-point range in the wins over Colorado and Utah. Alford erupted for a career-high 37 points and tied a school record with nine 3-pointers in the victory over Colorado, the highest-scoring game by a Bruin since Dijon Thompson posted 39 points against Arizona State on Feb. 10, 2005.
“It’s just one of those things that you can get going,” he said. “You make a couple (and) then you get to the line a couple of times. I made all my free throws finally tonight. Anytime I can get to the free-throw line and see the ball go in, and I always say when you see the first couple go in, it always helps.”
Arizona State is coming off a 91-75 loss to rival Arizona. Obinna Oleka had a career-high 22 points and nine rebounds for the Sun Devils.
Tra Holder scored 20 points, Torian Graham added 18 and Shannon Evans II tied his career high with eight assists, but the Sun Devils couldn’t overcome a slow start. The Wildcats shot 57 percent from the field and amassed a 38-22 rebounding advantage.
The Sun Devils trailed 45-25 at the break. They battled back to get within 12 in the second half, but they were unable to cut the deficit to single digits.
“No matter where you are playing on the road, you want to get your feet under you,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley told the Arizona Republic. “I tried to flip it in the huddle, telling my guys you have to fight the whole game and we are going to climb back in it. And we did, but we never got to a margin where we could put significant pressure on Arizona.”