It was a marquee matchup between the top two teams in the Pac-12 on Thursday night as No. 5 UCLA came to Tempe to take on ASU. For much of the game, it was tight and a grind-it-out defensive matchup. The final score shows a 12 point advantage to the Bruins, but this game was much, much closer than the 74-62 ending.
Struggle Down the Stretch
The Sun Devils and Bruins went punch-for-punch for the first 33 minutes. The Sun Devils led 60-58 with 6:13 left in the game. Then the Bruins ended the game on a 16-2 run.
Head coach Bobby Hurley credited the Bruins’ experience and ability to amp up the pressure defensively. He also saw missed opportunities by the Devils in the final minutes.
“(UCLA) turned their level up,” Hurley said. “I think they fed off the fact that they were hitting some shots too and when you play teams like this who have played in Final Fours, have those type of guys and have won so many games. They know how to turn it up a little bit down the stretch.”
Austin Nunez Stepping Up
Freshman Austin Nunez has been reliable on the defensive end all year and has been effective at times on the offensive end as well. He now has strung together three games with nine, seven and 10 points respectively. The freshman was particularly efficient on Thursday night, going four of six from the field in just 13 minutes. Hurley also credited Nunez with playing the strongest defense against UCLA star guard Tyger Campbell.
Record Setting Crowd
The Sun Devil faithful showed up on Thursday with 13,363 in attendance and 5,500 students, which is a record for the 942 crew. It was an atmosphere that was reminiscent of the James Harden era in program history. If the Sun Devils can continue to play well throughout the year, this could be closer to the new norm for Desert Financial Arena.
No Time to Wallow
This was a game where – in my opinion – the Sun Devils were more visibly frustrated than previously in the season. This is a group with poise and is generally stoic when things are not going right. Toward the end of the game, you could see the struggles – and the missed opportunity to close out the game – was wearing on many players’ shoulders.
But they hung with the No. 5 team in the country for most of the game, and they will face a good USC team on Saturday.
“These guys today went to the well,” Hurley said. “They played their ass off today. You go do that and now it’s about damage control and building them back up and getting them ready for Saturday night to do the same thing.”