UCLA overcomes sluggish start with a huge scoring run in win over Arizona State

UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) celebrates his dunk against Arizona State with forward Berke Buyuktuncel.

UCLA’s rich basketball history was on display at halftime, alums going back to 95-year-old George Stanich gathering on the court in blue sweaters with a gold UCLA patch on the chest.

For much of Saturday night, it appeared that what came before and afterward would need to be immediately erased from the memory bank.

The Bruins trailed Arizona State at halftime before falling into another epic offensive funk in which they missed 13 straight shots and went more than six minutes without a point.

It was not exactly the stuff of Ed O’Bannon, Mike Warren, Kiki VanDeWeghe and Jamaal Wilkes, who were among the roughly 100 former players who witnessed the sorry display.

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Just when it seemed as if the Bruins might limp to the finish line of the regular season, they reawakened the power of those four letters.

Using a massive run fueled by three-pointers and aggressive defense, UCLA rallied for a 59-47 victory over the Sun Devils at Pauley Pavilion in the final regular-season game in Pac-12 history.

“Just keep playing,” UCLA guard Lazar Stefanovic said of the mentality that fueled the comeback after the Bruins trailed by nine points with 9½ minutes left. “Keep playing, keep believing.”

Cleansing the palate of a five-game losing streak, including three straight setbacks at home, the Bruins secured the No. 5 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

UCLA forward Berke Buyuktuncel celebrates after making a three-pointer
UCLA forward Berke Buyuktuncel celebrates after making a three-pointer in the first half against Arizona State on Saturday. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

UCLA (15-16 overall, 10-10 Pac-12) will open the conference tournament at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday against No. 12 seed Oregon State at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Anyone who likes to bet might want to go with the Bruins given the way they closed out the Sun Devils.

Looking lost and ready for the season to end, the Bruins rolled off an 18-1 run that included four three-pointers, while also holding the Sun Devils to only four points over the final 9½ minutes. UCLA coach Mick Cronin said his team logged 10 deflections — tipped passes, steals, blocks or loose balls recovered — over its decisive run.

“I kept telling them, you’ve got to quit worrying about the scoreboard,” Cronin said, “you’ve got to worry about the deflection board and rebounding and shoot the ball.”

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UCLA's Adem Bona contributed a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds, Stefanovic made five of six three-pointers on the way to 16 points and Dylan Andrews added 12 points and six assists.

Having missed his first six shots, UCLA freshman guard Sebastian Mack sparked his team’s comeback with a three-pointer while heeding his coach’s orders to keep shooting.

“Anybody can make shots when you’re up 20,” Cronin said. “A guy making shots when you’re losing? That shows me something.”

After Andrews followed with a jumper and Stefanovic and Andrews made back-to-back three-pointers, Mack buried another shot from beyond the arc.

“Those were big, big buckets by him,” Cronin said. “Changed the whole game.”

Bona completed the run with two free throws and a jump hook. Fans who had long been silent roared with the Bruins holding an improbable 52-44 lead with just three minutes left.

Adam Miller scored 13 points for the Sun Devils (14-17, 8-12), who were without graduate transfer guard Jose Perez, their second-leading scorer, taking his averages of 13.5 points and 3.8 rebounds off the board. An athletic department spokesman said Perez had left the team to pursue professional opportunities.

Arizona State opened the door for the Bruins by making just five of 22 shots (22.7%) in the second half, including one of nine three-pointers (11.1%). The Sun Devils also missed nine of their final 14 free throws, including the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.

“The reason why we won the game,” Stefanovic said after UCLA outscored Arizona State 32-16 in the second half, “was because they couldn’t score.”

It won’t lead to any banners being raised, but the dramatic turnabout did salvage an evening that allowed several of the school’s legends to walk off their home court with smiles.

“We knew what it meant,” Bona said after playing in what might have been his final home game before heading to the NBA, “for the guys that played here before us.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.