Saturday, April 13

Late comeback propels UCLA men’s basketball to 2-point victory over Arizona State

Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic holds the ball while being defended. Stefanovic had a game-high 18 points for UCLA men’s basketball against Arizona State, shooting 3-of-7 from the 3-point line and 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. (Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

Men’s basketball

Arizona State66

This post was updated Jan. 17 at 11:53 p.m.

The Bruins were down six points before a flurry of fouls shifted the tide.

With 10:10 to play, Sun Devil center Shawn Phillips Jr. stood by in disbelief as the officials ejected him and motioned for him to leave the stadium.

The referees then decided that Arizona State guard Adam Miller’s foul would be upgraded to an intentional foul for his contact with UCLA junior guard Lazar Stefanovic.

Then, sophomore forward/center Adem Bona logged a technical of his own, canceling out one of Phillips’.

Stefanovic calmly sank the four free throws, and, on the next play, redshirt sophomore guard Will McClendon squared up on the left wing.

Swish. 50-49.

Backed by a late 12-0 run, UCLA men’s basketball (8-10, 3-4 Pac-12) assumed its first lead of the night and would hold on down the stretch to secure the comeback 68-66 victory against Arizona State (10-7, 4-2) in Tempe on Wednesday. Following four Sun Devil technical fouls and 21 free throw attempts in the second half, the Bruins managed to overcome a 15-point deficit and outlast the home team.

“I’d say that we’re starting to build back up our dogfight – you know, our dog within us,” freshman guard Sebastian Mack told reporters after the game. “I feel like that’s going to help us get over that hump.”

After the Bruins claimed their first lead, freshman guard/forward Brandon Williams poured into his career night with a jumper, bringing his total to 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting to pair with five rebounds.

“When I recruited Jaylen Clark, it wasn’t for his skill, it was for his heart – the same with Brandon Williams,” said coach Mick Cronin. “This guy’s made one 3 all year, and he shoots it anyway like he’s Steph Curry. He’s just a tough dude, the guy turned 18 about 60 days ago.”

As was characteristic of the night, Arizona State assumed the lead again off a 3-pointer, and the Bruins appeared in trouble when Bona – contributing a career-high seven blocks and five assists on the night – fouled out.

But Arizona State’s fouling pattern kept repeating itself. A third Sun Devil met the referee’s whistle on a technical foul, granting the Bruins more free throws.

Stefanovic and Mack split the four attempts from the charity stripe to go ahead 62-60 with 2:23 to play. When the Sun Devils sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer, Mack took matters into his own hands.

After sitting the first seven minutes of the second half in foul trouble and scoring zero points through the first 20 minutes, the freshman sandwiched a steal with back-to-back layups to put his team ahead for the final time.

“Just a proud moment for a teammate. More than a teammate – a great friend,” Williams said of Mack, who is also his roommate. “He got going late in the game when we needed it. He got to the foul line, and he made his free throws. He made big plays.”

Freshman guard/forward Brandon Williams rises for a contested layup against California. Williams had a career-best 13 points against the Sun Devils on Wednesday. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

With Mack – who leads UCLA in scoring this season – sitting half of the opening frame, UCLA was forced to find its offense elsewhere early on.

Normally tentative and attempting only 25% of its shots from deep, UCLA put up 10 of its first 22 shots beyond the arc, draining four of them. Arizona State also went 40% from the 3-point line with contributions from four different Sun Devils.

But Arizona State also wore an uncharacteristic hat in the first half. Losing the rebounding battle by an average of 7.5 boards per game entering Wednesday, Arizona State posted an 18-14 advantage on the glass in the first half and logged seven points off turnovers.

Sun Devil guard Adam Miller – in just his eighth game with the team – monopolized the stat sheet early on, posting nine of his team’s first 11 points. The mid-season transfer from LSU went 4-for-5 from the field to pair with four rebounds as he paced the Sun Devils on the glass.

After Miller’s hot start, Arizona State guard/forward Jamiya Neal began finding the bottom of the basket and logged a floor-high 11 points to extend the Sun Devils’ lead to 36-23 going into the locker room.

Behind the Bruins’ collective effort to improve to three conference wins, Cronin cracked a smile courtside.

“There’s no, ‘give up,’” Cronin said after the game. “I’m not allowing that – there’s never going to be, ‘give up.’”

Sports senior staff

Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.

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