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ASU drops UCLA, sweeps week of Pac-12 play for first time this season

Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) reacts after scoring against UCLA in the second half during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated UCLA 88-79. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — After seven weeks of Pac-12 play, the Arizona State Sun Devils have finally flipped the script.

Splitting their first five pairs of games, ASU managed to sweep a week of games in conference play and are now 7-6 in the Pac-12 following an 88-79 win over UCLA.

The Sun Devils (19-6) did so by showing who they are, both in both good and bad ways.

They were effective offensively in the opening nine minutes, but couldn’t get a stop. They trailed the Bruins 22-18, and most of that had to do with Kodi Justice.

The senior broke out of a major slump, entering Saturday having scored in double digits just once in his last six games. He scored or assisted on 14 of those 18 opening points, keeping the Sun Devils in it. He would finish with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

“Very happy for him in a big game to step up and play as well as he did on both ends of the floor,” Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game.

The other notable performer was freshman Kimani Lawrence, who has failed to create consistency in his play since coming back from a stress fracture in his left foot that occurred just before the season opener. He had eight points, seven rebounds and three steals.

Because of Lawrence playing catch-up and missing the team’s first 13 games, he has had very limited minutes and Hurley thinks that makes it all the more impressive how he played Saturday.

“I’ve been in that role,” he said. “It’s not easy, especially with the injury and everything.”

At the halfway point of the first half, ASU would create the necessary separation and never look back.

Those 18 points scored by ASU over the course of the first 10 and a half minutes were doubled in under five and a half minutes, an 18-4 run to lead 36-26 late in the first half.

At a certain point early in the second half, there was some realization that this will be a game UCLA (17-8) looks back on and will be frustrated by the way they played.

ASU’s leading scorers Tra Holder and Shannon Evans were a combined 7-of-25 from the field five minutes into the second half but the Bruins only managed a 49-39 deficit. The duo finished 12-for-36 combined, Holder scoring 22 and Evans 23, benefitting off a combined 15-of-16 effort from the foul line.

UCLA’s Aaron Holiday was surprisingly quiet, a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate who entered the game as the leading scorer in conference play. While he managed to score some buckets late in the game to end up with 20 points, at one point with under four minutes to go he was shooting 2-for-9 with five points and five assists.

That’s a credit to the Sun Devil defense, which played some of its best basketball of the season over the last 30 minutes of the game. Evans and Remy Martin, in particular, were extremely focused in not letting Holiday ever feel comfortable.

“We just wanted to be present in ball screens and try and limit his penetration,” Hurley said. “It was one of the keys.”

While the ASU defense would eventually break and allow some small runs by the Bruins as the second half went on, they always had an answer and would continuously lead by at least double digits for most of the way.

“I think outside of the first six minutes where they had 17 we really kinda locked down on defense better and generated more stops and that led to us playing better, more efficient on offense,” Hurley said.

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