LAS VEGAS — The first half of UCLA’s quarterfinal Pac-12 Tournament game against Arizona State was a replay – and not one UCLA cared to see again.
The Bruins lacked energy, content to let the Sun Devils do whatever they wanted on either end of the floor. The setting – MGM Grand Garden Arena – and the jerseys were different, but on the court, it was a mirror image of the teams’ January meeting, UCLA’s largest loss of the season.
Faced with its third quarterfinal exit in three years, coach Ben Howland’s Bruins made a change in the halftime locker room. UCLA found some resolve, got tougher and erased a 15-point deficit on its way to an 80-75 win that sent the Bruins to the semifinals and the Sun Devils packing.
A thunderous, fast-break dunk from freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad didn’t hurt either.
“We’re very fortunate,” said Muhammad, who scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime. “We really turned it up and rebounded the ball. We were composed and relaxed and that’s what happened.”
Intensity reached a boiling point amid UCLA’s comeback when Muhammad, Arizona State freshman Jahii Carson and two others were assessed technical fouls. Muhammad and Arizona State senior forward Carrick Felix got tangled up out of bounds. Howland ran across midcourt to bear-hug freshman guard Kyle Anderson and diffuse the situation.
“He did kick me, but he’s a competitor and he’s mad they lost,” Muhammad said of Felix’s actions.
The game had a battle between the conference’s co-freshmen of the year with Muhammad facing Carson. Carson netted 21 points and seven assists but Muhammad came out on top.
Muhammad wasn’t the only one fueling the comeback. UCLA (24-8, 13-5 Pac-12) had five players score in double figures. Redshirt senior point guard Larry Drew II played a near flawless game contributing 20 points and missing just two shots.
The No. 21 Bruins also found an answer for the Sun Devils’ junior center Jordan Bachynski. He matched a career high with 22 points – the same output he had in January – but only had eight of them after the break.
Redshirt junior forward Travis Wear was charged with slowing Bachynski down. He missed the ugly loss in Tempe, Ariz. with a concussion.
“He’s a big player,” Wear said. “I was trying to allow the other guys to come in and get the ball. We’re undersized, so I’m going to be playing against the biggest guy. My main goal is just going to be keeping the other center off the glass as much as possible and letting these guys clean it up.”
UCLA outrebounded Arizona State (21-12, 9-9) by eight, the first time they’ve won the rebounding battle since January.
“I was so happy that we won the battle of the boards today because that’s been our Achilles heel,” Howland said.
The Bruins move on to face No. 4 seed Arizona at 6 p.m. in Friday’s semifinal round.