The Bruins knew it because they had discussed the importance of this trip, their final of the season. A victory over Arizona on Saturday, they knew, would make a fine late addition to an NCAA tournament resume.
Before that, defeating the Sun Devils was a near necessity. It was, Kevon Looney said, "a game we needed to win."
The game was finally seized by Arizona State, 68-66, after a three-point shot by UCLA's Isaac Hamilton clanged off the basket at the buzzer.
The game was a reversal of all that had been going right for UCLA (16-11 overall, 8-6 in Pac-12 Conference), which had won five its last six games. Center Tony Parker, who had been a steady presence during the recent surge, was a nonfactor. UCLA was outrebounded by 12, which led to 17 second-chance points for Arizona State.
"We got killed on the boards tonight," Coach Steve Alford said. "You've got to give them a lot of credit for their effort. ... It's been a long time since we've been hammered on the glass like that. And they hammered us."
The Bruins yielded quite a bit in the second half inside, from where the Sun Devils scored 36 points.
Savon Goodman finished eight of eight from the field and led the Sun Devils (14-12, 6-7) with 20 points.
UCLA fouled Arizona State 16 times in the second half — 44% of the Sun Devils' possessions.
The fouls hamstrung UCLA late. Norman Powell picked up his fourth foul with more than 13 minutes left. Parker got his fourth with 9:41 remaining.
Parker and Looney fouled out.
Regardless, Parker had little effect on the game. He took, and missed, only one shot from the field. He had one assist, one block and two points in 20 minutes.
For Alford, Parker's play was a mystery.
"That's a question for him I guess," Alford said. "Just never really did get in the flow, and that's hard. But he's been awfully good and been working awfully hard."
A long three-point basket gave Arizona State a late four-point lead, but the Bruins cut into it. Powell demanded the ball, put his head down and made two consecutive baskets.
Trailing by three points with seconds left, UCLA chose to go for a two and a foul.
Arizona State missed one of two free throws, meaning UCLA could win with a three-pointer. Again, Powell demanded the ball but was rebuffed. He found Hamilton, the outlet, who released the ball at the buzzer.
It hit the back of the rim.
Walking off the court, Parker shook his head in frustration. Afterward, Powell, who led UCLA with 16 points, emerged from the locker room with an ice pack on a leg, his eyes set straight ahead.
"It's really tough," he said. "Especially being so close."
Looney, who finished with 14 points and a team-high six rebounds, described the frustration.
"We talked about it all week," Looney said, "and we let it slip away."