Mike Roll WAS the iceberg for UCLA on Saturday.

We’re gonna need a bigger Boateng:  Maneater Eric Boateng and chums devour sinking Bruins, who are now one wave short of a shipwreck, after ASU’s 56-46 feeding frenzy

It’s going to take the JAWS of Life to save the Bruins now, because UCLA apparently jumped the shark two years ago.  But even though the Bruins have been nothing more than shark bait for the last few games, there is still a shred of hope:  UCLA outscored ASU by 3, for the last 35 minutes of their 56-46 loss in Tempe on Saturday, proving once again that they can COMPETE with every team in the Conference Tournament.

The Sun Devils, who needed a win, to bouy their hopes of gaining an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, celebrated their Senior Day by charging out to a 13-0 lead in the first 4:05 of the game.  But the desperate Sun Devils didn’t show a killer instinct, and the short and short-handed Bruins didn’t quit.  The Bruins were without Reeves Nelson again, and his shell of a replacement Brendan Lane got pushed around like a ragdoll, by ASU’s burly Center Eric Boateng.  That prompted Ben Howland to go to Bobo Morgan, who was strong enough, but not quick (or experienced) enough to stop Boateng.

Boateng, a Senior transfer from Duke, led all scorers with 16, led all rebounders with (a career-high) 14 and led all blockers with (a career-high) 4, one more than the whole Bruin team.  And Boateng basically put the game away when he got two consecutive Offensive Rebounds with under 2:30 to go, with ASU holding a 9-point lead.  The Sun Devils scored on their third attempt, to go up by 11 and seal the victory.

With the Bruins getting overpowered inside, and with Tyler Honeycutt impressive but in foul trouble, they NEEDED both Nikola Dragovic and Michael Roll to be effective.  Neither one had a good 1st Half, as ASU led by about 9 throughout, and took an 11-point lead into Halftime.  In the 2nd Half, Drago got hot, briefly, hitting three Three’s and helping the Bruins shrink the lead to 5.  But Drago missed a couple of heat checks, and Roll never found the range.  Roll missed his first 4 shots of the game, made a short leaner, then missed his next 4 shots, going 1-9 on the day, and 0-6 from behind the arc.  When your leading scorer collects only 2 Points, you’re not going to win many games.  Malcolm Lee picked up some of the slack, worming his way into the paint for 15 Points, ALL inside.  But with ASU’s Defense smothering the rest of the Bruin Offense, and with Boateng dominating the glass, the Bruins never got any closer than 5.

Since the problems that UCLA endured on Saturday are NOT certain to re-occur, all this game meant was that ASU is just one more team in the Pac-9 Tourney that the Bruins COULD beat.  I’m not saying that UCLA is a better team than ASU.  But playing in Los Angeles, with a rested Reeves Nelson in there to neutralize Boateng, and a determined Michael Roll sure to shed his perimeter 0-fer, the Bruins would have a chance to upset the Sun Devils.

But first up for UCLA will be the Wildcats, on Thursday.  The Bruins were swept by Arizona this season, getting killed in Pauley, and blowing a 17-point, 2nd Half lead in Tucson on Thursday.  But the Bruins didn’t have Nelson in Tucson, and hopefully the old NFL axiom will translate to the NCAA:  It’s awfully hard to beat the same team three times in a row in a season.  That has a little to do with a conference rival KNOWING the workings of the opponent, and it has a LOT to do with emotion:  The team that won the first two meetings will be confident, but could be over-confident and play complacently, while the team that lost the first two might be hungrier, and motivated by revenge.

If the wave of complacency DOESN’T dampen Arizona, and the Bruins lose, the season will be considered a total shipwreck.  But if the Bruins can get Nelson back and they can put together a little run, anything is possible.  Because you have to admit, these Bruins have put forth their best efforts just when you are about to completely give up on them.