It’s one thing to break a losing streak. It’s quite another to do it against one of the flagship Pac-12 brands. And then to do it in front of a raucous crowd in overtime. Well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The Sun Devils earned their most notable win in at least three years, stunning No. 3 UCLA 87-84 in triple overtime Saturday night at Desert Financial Arena.
The Sun Devils (7-13, 3-7) had lost four straight and seven of their last eight with the matchup against the Bruins the fourth in a five-game series against nationally ranked opponents.
Moments after the final seconds had passed, the Sun Devil faithful stormed center court. The Sun Devils now have eight wins over the Associated Press’ top three teams in its history, four in the past 41 years, including three under current head coach Bobby Hurley.
The fiery head coach has seen significant progress in his team’s play over the past two weeks, although it hasn’t shown in the win column. He was happy to see it finally pay off for his team on a big stage.
“I thought it was a fun and entertaining game. I was ready to do it until tomorrow if the game continued. Both teams had incredible spirit, a will to win. A lot of plays were made there- We were lucky to still have something in the tank in that third overtime and to hit some big shots,” Hurley said. “It was very rewarding. I felt good for the children. We’ve been playing really well the past few weeks and we just haven’t been able to break through with a win.”
It marked the end of a tough road trip for UCLA (16-4, 8-3), which has a full roster of a team that made the NCAA Final Four last season. The Bruins lost to seventh-tier Arizona 76-66 Thursday night.
Despite ASU’s struggles, UCLA coach Mick Cronin expected a battle and pointed it out to his team. He hopes that’s a lesson learned.
“I’m happy for Bobby (Hurley) so give them lots of credit,” Cronin said. “I thought their activity, their excitement to be in this game far exceeded ours for the first 25-30 minutes. Their energy, their effort was off the charts and I said to the guys at half time: ‘ What did you think of that do you think they were going to come out and fold I know if I was a west coast player I was looking forward to playing against a team that went to the Final Four and who is ranked in the top 5. So I think it has a lot to do with their energy and effort.”
The contest entered the third overtime tied at 74, but ASU took the lead on a 3-pointer by DJ Horne within seconds. The Sun Devils led up to six, that advantage being 84-78 and later 86-80.
But nothing has been easy this season. UCLA got back-to-back buckets helped by an ASU turnover and cut the deficit to 86-84 with six seconds left.
The Bruins fouled Marreon Jackson and he missed the first down. After a timeout, Jackson made it second for a three-point advantage.
Jackson then fouled the Bruins before they could get a three-pointer out. Jaime Jaquez missed the first attempt, then had to intentionally miss the next one hoping for a rebound and a finishing kick, but the Bruins couldn’t get another shot.
There were plenty of heroes for ASU, but none were greater than Jackson, who had a season-high 24 points, including four 3-pointers. He transferred from Toledo where he won Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors but struggled, averaging just 8.1 points. He said a lot of his struggles stemmed from a right wrist injury. He didn’t talk about it until several games later.
“It was messed up all season and it just started to get better,” Jackson said. “If anyone knows what it’s like to be a basketball player, a shooter in general, it bothers you. Basically, repeating everything, just to get my confidence back. That was definitely the game to do this.”
Both teams had chances to end the contest early. In the final seconds of regulation, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang missed a jumper and ASU’s Jalen Graham grabbed the rebound with seconds left. A desperate three-pointer from Jackson was out of place.
UCLA made the final shot of the first overtime with 1.4 seconds left, but the Bruins threw the ball away, returning the ball to the Sun Devils for one final push. Jackson sent the ball to Horne in the corner but his shot was off the rim when the buzzer sounded.
The second extra stanza was tight for all five minutes, with neither team leading by more than two points. Neither team scored in the final 2:10, with the last miss coming from ASU’s Jaime Jaquez and Alonzo Gaffney getting the rebound to prevent a follow-up.
Jackson called it the best game he’s ever played.
“It’s definitely number 1,” he said. “You know, I’ve played in a lot of games, good atmospheres but it’s definitely, at this level, beating the No.3 team in the country. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
ASU, which shot 40.3 percent (29 for 72), had six in double figures with Jackson followed by Jalen Graham who had 16 with 10 rebounds and six assists. It was the sixth game of the last seven in which he managed to double the numbers after managing to do so only twice in the first 11.
Graham has been ill since before Thursday’s game and missed Saturday’s pregame shootout. He said he threw up in the shower before he left for the game and he felt better so he felt he could play.
Jay Heath added 12 with Horne and Kimani Lawrence adding 11. Gaffney had 10, his first double-digit performance since Game 2 of the season.
UCLA, which shot 42.3 percent (29 for 78) trailed Jaquez with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Juzang had 20 points and 10 boards before committing a foul.
“I loved it, part of me didn’t want it to end because both teams were really good tonight and played a hell of a game so it was fun to be a part of it and coach it,” Hurley said. “They were determined. They wouldn’t be denied. That’s what I heard in the player caucuses. It’s ‘Hey, we’re in this overtime, we’re going to get it.’ So they had the right mindset and you knew they were going to do what it took to win.
The Sun Devils will complete the three-game home stretch with a 7 p.m. game against rival Arizona (19-2 9-1), which is ranked No. 7 and is coming off a 72-63 win over No. 19 USC. The game will be broadcast on FS1. The teams played last Saturday in Tuscon with the Wildcats winning 67-56.
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