The UCLA men’s basketball team bullied Arizona State in the teams’ first matchup, and Jerime Anderson was the one who shoved the Sun Devils into a corner.
When Anderson saw the short-handed Sun Devils turn to a freshman walk-on as its primary ball handler, the UCLA senior guard saw a chance for the Bruins to harass the Sun Devils with a full-court press. ASU couldn’t get the ball halfway down the court.
Would Anderson do it again?
“If he gets in the game I’m trying to give him some pressure, see if he can handle it,” Anderson said with a laugh.
UCLA rolled over an ASU team that had just six scholarship players by a score of 75-58.
The Sun Devils were missing three players in that game because of suspension, headlined by leading scorer Keala King.
King was eventually dismissed, but even with their squad mostly restored, the Sun Devils (8-19, 4-11 Pac-12) sit in the bottom third of the conference standings.
Tonight’s rematch in Tempe, Ariz. could very well be a first-round matchup in March’s Pac-12 Tournament, in which UCLA (15-12, 8-6) will likely have to win four games in four days to make the NCAA Tournament.
But UCLA coach Ben Howland won’t look that far, not even looking to adjust the heavy minutes he gives his short rotation in preparation for the tournament.
“We’re just trying to win each game one game at a time,” Howland said. “I’m not looking further than the games we’re playing.”
At this point, it’s hard to put too much meaning on any one game in UCLA’s season.
The games will only matter again once the Pac-12 Tournament starts, where the Bruins at least have a chance to salvage the season.
Coming off a cross-country trip that resulted in a tough loss to St. John’s, at least one Bruin was looking to that light at the end of the tunnel.
“We can’t do anything but be positive right now,” senior guard Lazeric Jones said.
“I still have really high hopes for the Pac-12 Tournament.”
A more pressing concern to UCLA is figuring out how to attack Arizona State coach Herb Sendek’s trademark zone defense.
Zone defenses have given the Bruins’ tall lineup problems all season, preventing guards from feeding UCLA’s tall frontcourt in the post.
“We had 16 turnovers in the game on Saturday,” said Howland, noting how poorly the Bruins fared against St. John’s aggressive zone pressure.
“We’ve got to do a better job attacking the Arizona State zone.”
The measuring stick on this road trip comes Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. against fifth-place Arizona, which UCLA also soundly defeated in January.
With only four games remaining before the conference tournament, every win is important to UCLA’s seed.
The players stress it’s imperative that they don’t look past a weaker Arizona State team.
“We can’t overlook anyone,” Anderson said. “We never could. We haven’t been able to get away with that all year.”