UCLA's Bruins did what they had to do to move back toward contention in the Pacific 10 Saturday night: They won a game, their first of the month and 10th of the season, edging past Arizona State, 69-65, before 7,883 in Pauley Pavilion.
This game was played like the battle for fifth place it was. The Bruins had a 16-point lead early in the second half and lost all of it. They opened another 10-point lead with 2:45 left and were down to a 65-63 lead with :38 left, having missed five straight free throws and six of seven.
At that point, Nigel Miguel, hit both ends of two one-and-ones. The Bruins are now 10-11, 7-5, in sole possession of fifth place, 2 1/2 games behind first-place USC.
"Is there a free throw shooter here?" asked UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard, walking into the interview room. "Tell my team not to leave. We have free throw shooting immediately after their shower. . . .
"But it breaks our four-game losing streak. Our food will taste better. I can stop arguing and fighting with my wife, stop beating up my dog."
For the first time this season, Hazzard sat down team captain Gary Maloncon and started freshman Craig Jackson. Maloncon, a senior with pro aspirations, swallowed hard when he was given the news Wednesday but made the best of it. "He's taking it like a champ," a Bruin assistant said a few days ago.
Saturday, Maloncon entered the game with 12:27 left in the first half, to a warm reception. His first shot went two feet over the basket and his next two also missed. But he took nine rebounds in his 11 minutes in the first half and blocked two shots. After the first block, Hazzard called him over to the bench and gave him a crashing low five.
"He's the type coach, he won't hide anything," Maloncon said. "He'll tell you. He won't wait until game day.
"It was pretty hard, but if it's going to help the team. . . . I've been there before."
Jackson was making his first college start and the Sun Devils welcomed him by neglecting to guard him away from the basket. Jackson, a 34% shooter in conference play, dutifully took the uncontested shots. By the time the game was 88 seconds old, he was 0 for 2 with a turnover, and the Sun Devils led, 4-0.
Both field goals were scored by Chris Sandle, the 6-7 freshman forward from Long Beach Poly. Sandle, the Devils' leading scorer, was blanked from the floor by Miguel in Tempe, but this time he had eight points by halftime.
At roughly that time, Hazzard withdrew his full-court press and his half-court defense started tightening up. The Bruins eased into a seven-point lead, led by Brad Wright, who scored five of the Bruins' first 19 points and assisted on three of their first eight field goals.
The Devils crept back within four points late in the half, but then caved in, not for the first time this weekend. At the Sports Arena Thursday night, they were outscored 20-1 in one stretch by USC. This time, they gave up eight points in a row to UCLA.