LAS VEGAS, Nev – Arizona State has not exactly been stellar when is comes to its showing in the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils are only 7-20 historically and have lost their opening game in the event in four of the last five years and in five of the last seven.
The No. 2-seed Sun Devils had a chance to change that trend and improve their NCAA Tournament standing at the same time and did just that, chalking up an 83-72 victory over No. 7 UCLA in quarterfinal play on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena.
The win sends the Sun Devils (22-9) into Friday’s 8:30 p.m. semifinal against the winner of Thursday’s late semifinal between Oregon and Utah. ASU split season series with both of those opponents this season.
Most postseason projections had the Sun Devils likely in the NCAA Tournament field no matter what their finish, but upsets in other conference tournaments could result in bids being taken from those in the major conferences so every win at this point is added security for the Sun Devils.
Hurley said before the tournament he thought his team was in. Asked about the “uncertainty” of his team’s postseason possibilities after the contest, Hurley replied, “After that, what uncertainty.”
The Sun Devil used a 14-0 run at the end of the first half to separate themselves from their foe. ASU led 31-29 with 4:01 left in the half before exploding for 14 unanswered points, the final ones coming when sophomore Kimani Lawrence came up with a loose ball, bobbled it, then heaved up an off-balance desperation shot at the buzzer from about two steps past halfcourt.
The outburst also featured back-to-back 3-pointers from Luguentz Dort, who had missed his first five tries, and one from Rob Edwards.
“II have been on the wrong side of a few of those so I was just happy,” Hurley said of the shot by Lawrence. “It was a scramble and we did a good of creating the turnover that led to that.”
UCLA made a run as well, getting within single digits at 62-53 with 8:32 left on jumper by Kris Wilkes.
The Sun Devils has a 8:20 minute drought without a field goal that finally ended when Zylan Cheatham scored inside to make it 68-55. They has a handful of free throws in that stretch, to help hold off the hard-charging Bruins.
UCLA shot 25 of 56 from the field but made 10 of 25 tries from long distance with Wilkes and Jaylen Hands each tossing in five 3-pointers and finishing with 25 and 21 points respectively.
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ASU shot 30 of 61 (49.2 percent) and finished with a 39-31 advantage on the boards as well as a 34-20 advantage on points scored in the paint. Sophomore forward Romello White scored a team-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, He also snagged seven rebounds and blocked a shot, taking advantage of the absence of 7-foot freshman Moses Brown who was in foul trouble much of the game.
“That was definitely something we saw and tried to take advantage of and my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball,” White said.
White led a parade of five players in double figures. Edwards tallied 15 with Dort and Cheatham contributing 13 and Remy Martin 10 with six assists. Cheatham also grabbed 13 rebounds to notch his 13th double-double of the season.
UCLA (17-16) was shorthanded, having lost freshman guard David Singleton to a broken foot sustained in the final minute of its 79-72 first round win over Stanford 24 hours earlier. Interim coach Murry Bartow was also without Prince Ali, who has missed the last six games with plantar fasciitis and was not expected to play this week despite returning to practice.
ASU has never won the tournament, making its only trip to the final game in 2009 when it lost to USC, then led by DeMar DeRozan, 66-63.