No. 5 UCLA goes for 6th straight win

TEMPE, Ariz. — No. 5 UCLA has stubbed its toe at Arizona State twice in the last four seasons, including a two-point loss almost two years ago to the day of Thursday’s visit by the Bruins.

If the Bruins want to ensure a meaningful match against No. 4 Arizona on Saturday, they cannot slip up again.

Guard Lonzo Ball and the Bruins (24-3, 11-3 Pac-12) have won five games in a row and need to keep winning to have a realistic shot at their first conference regular-season title since 2013. Arizona (25-3, 14-1) and No. 6 Oregon (24-4, 13-2) are first and second in the Pac-12.

Right now, Arizona State (13-15, 6-9) is the Bruins’ only concern. The Sun Devils have won three of their last five since a one-point loss at Oregon.

UCLA, which won its first 13 games before losing to Oregon, posted a three-point victory over the Ducks in the return match on Feb. 10. Its current streak includes a 41-point victory at Washington and a 32-point win over rival USC on Saturday, which included a 26-point performance by Bryce Alford and endorsements from two proud papas.

“I like it when he snarls,” said UCLA coach Steve Alford, after seeing his son’s facial expression when he was knocked to the floor on a drive. “I wish he would snarl in warmups. When he gets that, he goes to another level toughness-wise.”

Ball, a freshman point guard considered to be one of the top players in the NBA draft if he leaves school, had 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He leads NCAA Division I with an average of 7.6 assists per game, and with 206 assists is on pace to break former Oregon State guard Gary Payton’s conference freshman record of 229.

“I’m going to tell you right now, he’s better than Stephen Curry to me,” Ball’s father, LaVar, told the Pac-12 network in an interview during the game. “Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”

Senior Alford had five 3-pointers against USC in avenging a January loss and has 301 career threes, the most among active Power-6 conference players and seventh in Pac-12 history.

Freshman forward T.J. Leaf, another projected first-round draft pick if he leaves school, leads UCLA in scoring (16.7 per game) and rebounding (8.7) while shooting 62.8 percent from the field.

The Bruins average 92.3 points and are shooting 53.5 percent from the field, both tops in the NCAA.

Arizona State, which starts four guards, combats its lack of size with perimeter scoring. Guard Torian Graham is second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 18.5 points while Tra Holder (17.2) is fourth and Shannon Evans II (15.8) is 10th.

The Sun Devils are averaging 9.8 3-pointers, and with 273 threes are threatening the school record of 288 set in 2009. They were outscored 21-2 in the final 10 minutes of an 86-71 loss at Washington State on Saturday.

“I don’t know if we ran out of steam as the game progressed,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We felt great about our first half … but we couldn’t sustain it in the second half.”