Deviled Legs — Buried by 15 in the 2nd Half, Bruins rise from the grave to deal with the exhausted Devils 80-75  and move on to the Pac-12 Tournament Semi-Finals

The Sun Devils in Sin City?  No one said it was gonna be easy… and it certainly wasn’t easy for UCLA, who had to battle back from 15 down in the last 16+ minutes to eliminate Arizona State from the Pac-12 Tourney, 80-75.  As expected, it took a hell of an effort from the Bruins to get it done.  Led by the Senior poise of Larry Drew II, the competitive greatness of Shabazz Muhammad, and the clutch shooting of Travis Wear at the end, UCLA mounted an improbable comeback that shocked everyone in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Drew II scored a career-high 20 Points, including 4-for-4 Three-point shooting — two of which gave the Bruins the lead in the last five minutes.  Drew also ran the Offense with confidence and patience, as the tired Sun Devils — who won in Overtime on Wednesday — fell apart.  In the 1st Half, ASU couldn’t miss, with their sharp-shooter hitting Trey after Trey, and their big monster dominating the Paint.  But as their tank started to empty out, their FG% dropped rapidly, and their ability to feed the monster dwindled even faster.  You can credit Travis Wear’s Defense inside, and the Bruins’ team Defense for taking away the kick-out option, but you could just as easily say ASU just lost their legs.  Either way, the tide turned in the Bruins’ favor.

If you don’t want to credit the Bruins’ increased tenacity on D, that’s fine, but you HAVE to acknowledge the incredible ferocity of Shabazz.  After scoring only 4 before the Half, Muhammad came out in the 2nd Half and TOOK OVER.  Playing in front of his hometown Vegas fans, he re-energized during the break, and played with renewed fire and the refuse-to-lose attitude that he was lauded for in high school.  Shabazz scored 12 in the 2nd Half, including 10 in the Bruins’ 17-4 run that turned the game around.  Shabazz also pulled down 9 Rebounds, including 6 on the Offensive end, most of which led to Points.

And when it came down to the final minute and a half, Travis Wear came up huge.  As he did in a few games before he sprained his foot, TWear was MONEY when the Bruins needed him most.  With 90 seconds left, he hit two Free Throws to tie the game at 74.  Then with a minute left he hit a jump shot to put the Bruins up 76-75, and finally, with 11 seconds left he hit another one to increase the lead to 78-75.

ASU’s best outside shooter inexplicably got a decent look on a Three-pointer to try to tie, but fortuitously for UCLA it rimmed out, Jordan Adams grabbed the Board, and that was that.  With .5 seconds left, a Sun Devil obnoxiously — out of frustration — stepped over Shabazz, and lightly KICKED him right near his package,  Shabazz got up and started to challenge him, and Kyle Anderson stepped in, also taking umbrage at the dirty, bush-league kick.  Ben Howland came flying in to bear-hug Anderson and pull him out of the fray, and totally got in Anderson’s face, verbally.  Both Shabazz and Anderson were assessed Technical Fouls — as Howland must have feared.  This could have easliy gift-wrapped the game for the Devils, even though the game was virtually over, in the W column for UCLA.  However, two Sun Devils were ALSO nailed with T’s, so the 4 Technicals nullified one another.  David Wear was sent to the line for a one-and-one (since there was a foul before the T’s), and he sank them both to make the final margin 5 — making Vegas bettors who GAVE the FOUR AND A HALF POINTS extemely ecstatic.

Howland must be given credit for motivating the Bruins to persevere in the face of insurmountable odds, as well as for Coaching the Bruins to overcome their biggest weakness:  They actually OUTREBOUNDED Arizona State 36-28.  Between taking care of the glass for the first time in ages, and hitting 15 out of 17 Free Throws, and committing only 6 Turnovers, the Bruins looked like a well-coached team with composure — not a ragtag group of Freshmen like they were in November.

On Friday night, the Bruins will test the old adage that it’s tough to beat a good team three times in a season, as they face Arizona.  The Bruins took care of the Wildcats in both meetings this season, so U of A will have revenge and validation on their minds.  Not only that, but they will have a home-court advantage in Vegas, as it appears a large Wildcat following has made the trip.  The other bad omen for UCLA:  They never seem to play well after getting really good press, unitl Thursday, when they built on their victory in Washington with this gem over ASU.  But during the season, every time they climbed into the National rankings, they fell right out with a clunker.  But maybe Thursday showed that they have matured, and can handle the raised expectations a little better.  Or maybe Drew II’s leadership and Muhammad’s will to win are taking over and guiding the team to victory.  It will take all of that and more to beat the highly-ranked ‘Cats, who played their best on Thursday to dispatch a solid Colorado team in a game that was MUCH closer than the final ten-point margin indicated.  And even though both teams are assured entry into The Big Dance, this game is crucial — The winner will undoubtedly get a better placement, probably a higher seed, and more importantly (according to Howland), probably a position in the WEST regional.  Too bad they can’t give that to the team that won (at least) two out of three in the head-to-head sesaon series.  🙂