LAS VEGAS (AP) — Arizona State appeared to be in good shape before heading to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament.
A trip to the semifinals after a hard-fought win over UCLA should all but lock the Sun Devils’ bid up.
Romello White scored 19 points, Rob Edwards added 15 and Arizona State withstood UCLA’s second-half push for an 83-72 victory in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals Thursday night.
“It’s a big step. It means a lot,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We played in a lot of big games this year, a lot of high-level teams. We’ve been in this spot throughout the year, and this team has a great leadership and great resolve and desire to win. All those things were on display tonight.”
The second-seeded Sun Devils (22-9) dominated the first half and stretched their lead to 23 early in the second, but let UCLA back in it by going nearly nine minutes without a field goal.
Arizona State settled itself after the long drought and held off the Bruins to earn a spot in Friday’s semifinals against sixth-seeded Oregon. Zylan Cheatham had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and the Sun Devils shot 49 percent.
Seventh-seeded UCLA (17-16) looked sluggish early after playing the night before, but used a big run to trim into Arizona State’s lead to nine.
Kris Wilkes keyed the second-half run, scoring 17 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes, but the Bruins were never able to make it back from the big early hole. Jaylen Hands added 21 points for UCLA.
“The obvious difference in the game was the last four minutes of the first half,” UCLA coach Murry Bartow said. “But these guys have never wavered, they’ve never backed down. They’ve competed hard, they’ve played hard.”
The Sun Devils had some head-scratching losses during the regular season, including at home against Washington State. Arizona State closed the season strong, though, five of its final six games to earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
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UCLA looked like it was going to cruise into the quarterfinals, building a 26-point lead against Stanford, but allowed the Cardinal to creep back into it before winning 79-72.
The Bruins opened the quarterfinal game casting too many long range shots and fell into an eight-point hole. UCLA worked its inside-out game to cut into the lead, but went cold again as Arizona State closed the first half on a 14-0 run.
Kimani Lawrence capped the run by fumbling the ball, gathering it up again and hitting an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Sun Devils up 45-29.
“They can be a very streaky team. They’re very dynamic and when they get going, they’re pretty darn good,” Bartow said. “And they just in that stretch really got going.”
Arizona State kept humming to start the second half, hitting five of its first seven shots to push the lead to 23.
But then UCLA picked up its defensive intensity and had a better rhythm to its offense, using a 13-0 run to pull within 59-49.
Arizona State broke its long field goal-less stretch when UCLA was called for goal tending on Cheatham’s drive — a shot that had no chance of going in — and another goaltend on White’s jump hook put the Sun Devils up 72-58 with five minutes left.
“I thought at times in the game we forget what kind of got us there, and that was getting the ball inside to Romello and Zylan,” Hurley said. “Both of those guys had great individual games, both scoring and rebounding.”
UCLA made a big run after an awful first half, but ran out of gas down the stretch.
Arizona State played well at the start and the finish to add another notch to its NCAA Tournament resume.
UCLA may get an invite to a smaller postseason tournament.
Arizona State plays No. 6 seed Oregon in the semifinals.
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