UCLA gets beaten in the paint, on the boards in loss at Arizona State

UCLA looked like it had a chance at Arizona State, Isaac Hamilton pulling up on the right wing for what could have been a game-winning, buzzer 3-pointer. But even that was likely a mirage — just another ill-conceived play in a 68-66 loss, one that delivered a gut punch to the Bruins’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

Hamilton’s shot wasn’t reviewed, since all it drew was back iron and the sighs of UCLA fans hopeful for a late-season surge. On the replay, however, the sophomore’s fingertips looked like they were still on the ball as the backboard lit up red. With 6.8 seconds left, UCLA likely hadn’t created a viable last shot.

The Bruin offense had looked disjointed for much of the second period, missing 11 of its first 14 shots after the break to lose what had been a 36-32 halftime lead.

Norman Powell led the team with 16 points, but didn’t score a second-half point until the final 92 seconds. Big man Tony Parker was a non-factor, fouling out with 9:42 left on the game clock; he finished with just two points and one rebound, his worst showing of the year.

But what really sank the Bruins was lackluster rebounding and indifferent defense. Arizona State dominated them on the boards, 39-27, and sank an array of shots at close range. The Sun Devils shot 54.5 percent on 2-point attempts, and scored 36 points in the paint — 14 more than UCLA. Continue reading

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At a glance: UCLA at Arizona State

UCLA (16-10, 8-5) at Arizona State (13-12, 5-7)
Wednesday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m. PT, Wells Fargo Arena
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: ESPN College GameDay is heading to Tucson for No. 7 Arizona’s Saturday game against UCLA, but the Bruins’ tourney bubble status should keep them from overlooking Arizona State tonight. Steve Alford and company simply can’t afford to lose more than one of its final five games.

The Sun Devils have not been a particularly good team, but they are at least average in most areas and can do enough to upset more talented teams (ex: an 81-78 upset of the Wildcats on Feb. 7). However, despite its “Curtain of Distraction,” ASU has also been unable to string together two straight home wins since December, when it held off Harvard and Detroit. The team is coming off a 10-point win over Washington last Sunday.

In its ninth season under Herb Sendek, Arizona State has been very, very good at one thing: defensive rebounding. The roster doesn’t have much size outside of 6-foot-10 big man Eric Jacobsen, but manages to clean its own glass with a good amount of support from guards and wings. At the top of that list is junior Gerry Blakes, a JUCO transfer who is not only averaging 20.8 points in his last three games, but also leads the team with in defensive rebounding percentage (19.1). Continue reading

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Four-star defensive tackle Joseph Wicker commits to Arizona State

UCLA started National Signing Day with a bang, but it wasn’t able to pull a clean sweep on ESPNU’s loaded slate of announcements.

Four-star defensive tackle Joseph Wicker committed to Arizona State over the Bruins and Texas Tech. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman is a top-100 national recruit who is ranked No. 12 at his position by Rivals.com. He was UCLA’s only chance to add an interior defensive lineman in the 2015 recruiting class.

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UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley scouts Colorado offensive line

Colorado has only given up 12 sacks this season, good for the second-best mark in the Pac-12.

UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley said the key to besting the Buffs is to rely on get-off and speed rushes — as well as using his hands to avoid chop blocks.

“When they try to chop block you, they try to tear your ACL,” McKinley said. “To me, that’s dirty. To them, it’s their job. But to me, it’s pretty dirty.”

Asked if he’d noticed any other Pac-12 teams use chop-blocks, McKinley pointed out Utah — which beat UCLA 30-28. Oregon and Arizona State, on the other hand, weren’t major offenders. “Cal, their running backs did it a lot,” he continued. “I’d come in there full speed, and their little running backs just might go straight for my legs. So did the little tight ends they have.”

RELATED:
» A couple of Bruins are already familiar with Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce.
» Brett Hundley’s turnovers have been particularly untimely for UCLA.

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Notes and quotes: Brett Hundley’s brilliance leads UCLA past ASU

In the second quarter of what would become UCLA’s 62-27 blowout of Arizona State, Brett Hundley showed everyone just how healthy he was.

On second-and-7 near midfield, the Bruins’ star quarterback capped a six-yard scramble with a hurdle, leaping over one linebacker before another came and hit him on his left arm. Hundley knew that this could happen — that by favoring thrill over caution, he could open himself up to defenders who were surely eyeing that heavy brace covering his left elbow.

He also knew he didn’t care.

“I’m playing football,” Hundley said. “I can’t not do what I like doing and how I like playing. … That’s what I wanted to do this game, is not come in and think that I’m limiting myself by not running. I wanted to show that I could still run the ball and still do all the things God has blessed me to do.”

Arizona State bore the brunt of all that Thursday night. This was as masterful a performance that Hundley has ever delivered in UCLA colors — one only highlighted by the fact that it came less than two weeks after an elbow injury that had fans holding their breath.

His final line was absurd: 355 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. He only had five incompletions, and two were dropped by receiver Kenneth Walker. He tacked on 72 rushing yards, punching in a one-yard touchdown for the final score, after the game was well in hand. In the end zone, he looked up at the stands and slapped his left arm.

His two 80-yard passes were a career-high, and marked UCLA’s longest pass completion since Drew Olson’s 91-yarder to Joe Cowan in 2005. He now has seven 300-yard games in his career four behind Cade McNown’s school record of 11.

In another blowout, UCLA might have already trotted out backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, the team’s savior in a 20-17 win against Texas almost two weeks ago. But Hundley wasn’t sitting this one out. Not in front of his hometown crowd, not when he had missed nearly the entire game against the Longhorns, and certainly not against the team that had beaten him a year ago for the Pac-12 South title.

“Brett, I’ve never seen him this hyped (as he was) this whole week,” said receiver Thomas Duarte.

» Someone scratched “UCLA” into Arizona State’s midfield pitchfork logo before kickoff, and the Bruins all but said that one of them was responsible.

Take it away, Brett Hundley and Thomas Duarte:

Mildly reminiscent of another midfield controversy, perhaps?

» UCLA’s offensive line played one of its better games of the season, allowing Hundley to get sacked just once despite losing starting left guard Alex Redmond in the first half. Continue reading

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UCLA 62, Arizona State 27: Quarterback Brett Hundley

Quarterback Brett Hundley put in a masterful performance in UCLA’s 62-27 win at Arizona State, finishing with 355 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. He talked to reporters afterward about how amped he was to be playing at home, and the “talking” that happened between the teams beforehand.

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What to watch: No. 11 UCLA at No. 15 Arizona State

UCLA starts Pac-12 play tonight at 7 p.m. with one of the most high-profile college football games of the week. No. 15 Arizona State doesn’t have starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, but remains the defending division champion.

Here’s are a few things to watch:

UCLA offense vs. Arizona State defense:

A lot obviously hinges on whether or not Brett Hundley plays after injuring his left elbow on Sept. 13, but it’s a good bet that the star quarterback suits up after practicing with a protective brace over the past week. UCLA’s coaching staff has insisted that the playbook doesn’t change with backup Jerry Neuheisel, but Hundley stretches the field with his arm and legs in a way that Neuheisel can’t.

Assuming Hundley goes, UCLA’s offense could be the first team that truly exposes an ASU defense that lost nine starters from its Pac-12 South-winning unit. The Sun Devils are still forcing takeaways — No. 7 nationally in turnover margin (1.67) — they’ve given up big plays despite a lackluster early schedule. ASU allows 5.41 yards per play, good for 74th in college football but a mark that looks far worse when you consider that it has faced an FCS team (Weber State), a below-average Mountain West team (New Mexico) and arguably the worst team in the Pac-12 (Colorado). Those latter rank just 82nd and 89th in the country in scoring, respectively, at 28.3 and 25.8 points per game.

So if Hundley avoids interceptions against a decent secondary, he should do enough to break open the game. He has a reliable No. 1 tailback next to him now in Paul Perkins — who’s coming off a career game with 195 all-purpose yards against Texas — and an offensive line that seems to be gelling more with each passing game.

If Neuheisel has to enter the game at any point, the matchup becomes a little more dicey. The redshirt sophomore perfectly fits the game-manager mold, and came through with a 33-yard game-winning touchdown against the Longhorns, but isn’t the dynamic threat that would scare a defense that has a full game’s worth of film on him.

Edge: UCLA

UCLA defense vs. Arizona State offense:

Myles Jack didn’t play linebacker against the Sun Devils last year, a tactical decision that Jim Mora still regards as one of his biggest regrets. Having him in this time on defense will be crucial against an Arizona State squad that has D.J. Foster — who could end up being an All-Pac-12 tailback at the end of the season.

Foster was a highly-sought UCLA recruit back in 2012, and UCLA’s coaches and players were happy to talk him up over the past week. He’s become a very effective runner and can grind out yards after contact, but is also a dangerous threat as a pass catcher. Continue reading

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Five questions: FOX Sports’ Tyler Lockman talks Arizona State

UCLA opens its conference schedule on Thursday with a big road game at No. 15 Arizona State — a primetime chance for the Bruins to prove themselves still capable of a juggernaut performance. FOX Sports Arizona’s Tyler Lockman answered five questions about the Sun Devils, who are without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.

1. How do ASU fans feel about Todd Graham two-plus years in? Does he need to show progress after a Pac-12 South title to keep them satisfied?

It’s hard to imagine them feeling any better about Graham in year three. He has overhauled the program’s culture, taken the team to two bowl games, boosted recruiting and gotten unprecedented commitment — financially and otherwise — out of ASU’s administration. That’s all before mentioning the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South and hosted the conference title game in his second season. On top of it all, he recently backed up his talk of a long-term commitment to ASU by donating $500,000 of his own money to ASU’s stadium renovation fund. How could ASU fans not be happy with him leading the program?

All that good will afford him some breathing room this season. Fans tempered their expectations a bit after ASU lost nine defensive starters to graduation and the NFL following last season, so while Graham and the players expect themselves to at least match last season’s 10-4 finish, fans would probably be pretty happy to see ASU finish with eight or nine wins in what was expected to be a bit of a building year.

2. How does ASU’s defense look after losing nine starters? Might it get exposed against a more potent offense?

It’s hard to tell exactly where the defense is because ASU has so far faced an FCS team (Weber State), a team that runs the triple option offense (New Mexico) and a team that has two conference wins in the past two seasons (Colorado). Continue reading

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