Originally Published: February 10, 2018 10:29 p.m.
TEMPE — Arizona State has notched numerous milestones during this breakout season. The Sun Devils had the best start in program history, matched their highest ranking and knocked off a top-two team for the first time in 36 years.
They added another one Saturday night: first Pac-12 weekend sweep under coach Bobby Hurley.
Led by its trio of senior guards, Arizona State followed up a win over Southern California by beating UCLA 88-79 for its first conference weekend sweep in three seasons under Hurley.
“Our confidence is high and that’s what’s willing us right now,” Arizona State senior guard Tra Holder said. “If we keep shooting the ball well, the sky’s the limit and we’re going to be that team we were in the nonconference.”
Arizona State (19-6, 7-6 Pac-12) knocked off Southern California to start the week and revved up its big-run game against the Bruins, using an 18-4 first-half spurt to build an eight-point halftime lead. The Sun Devils stretched the margin in the second half and made 25 of 28 free throws to earn that elusive conference sweep.
Their senior guards led the way, accounting for 62 points. Shannon Evans II had 23 points, Holder added 22 and Kodi Justice had 17.
The timing for the sweep couldn’t be better with a rivalry game against No. 13 Arizona up next.
“Definitely confidence is high, but we’ll talk about that game when it comes,” Justice said.
UCLA (17-8, 8-5) started well on the heels of a road victory over No. 13 Arizona, only to see the Sun Devils race past them. The Bruins went through a lengthy stretch without a field goal during Arizona State’s big run and fell short with a late rally.
Aaron Holiday had 20 points to lead UCLA.
“Those three guards got away from us,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “Those three are really talented guards who had it going.”
Arizona State broke its string of losing the opener of the Pac-12’s two-game sets this season by rallying to knock off USC 80-78 on Holder’s banked-in runner with 1.9 seconds left.
UCLA moved further away from the NCAA Tournament bubble and pulled within a game of the Pac-12 lead by knocking off No. 13 Arizona 82-74 on Thursday. The Bruins played a superb all-around game, pulling away from the Wildcats to win in one of college basketball’s toughest road venues.
UCLA shot 52 percent against Arizona, making 11 shots from the 3-point arc. The Bruins kept their offensive rhythm going in the desert early against Arizona State, getting good shots inside against the smaller Sun Devils, opening up good looks from the perimeter.
The flow came to a halt midway through the first half after Arizona State tightened up, leading to a nearly eight-minute field goal-less span for the Bruins.
“We were in a pretty good rhythm and we had a bad stretch in the first half offensively where we took some quick shots instead of continue to work the ball inside,” Alford said.
The Sun Devils turned those missed shots into opportunities to get out in transition and they ran away from the Bruins with an 18-4 run to lead 40-32 halftime.
Arizona State struggled to get shots to fall early in the second, but when those started dropping, the lead started rising, up to 54-41 on Holder’s 3 with just under 13 minutes left.
UCLA made a short run to pull within 79-70 in the final two minutes, but the Sun Devils kept making free throws to keep their cushion.
UCLA would rather have swept the Arizona trip, but a desert split isn’t bad.
Arizona State’s first conference weekend sweep may put the Sun Devils back in the AP Top 25 and certainly will boost its NCAA Tournament hopes.
Arizona State’s Kimani Lawrence has not been a huge part of Hurley’s rotation since suffering a foot stress fracture just before the season. The freshman forward appeared in 11 games since returning, averaging 2.2 points and 7.5 minutes.
Lawrence had arguably his best game with the Sun Devils against UCLA, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and three steals in 16 minutes.
“I’ve been in that role as a player professionally when you don’t even know when your name is going to get called,” Hurley said. “When it is, you’ve got to be ready to perform. It’s not easy, especially with the injury. He was very efficient.”
UCLA hosts Oregon State on Thursday.
Arizona State hosts No. 13 Arizona on Thursday.