Three freshmen lead UCLA over Arizona State, 79-74

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Nothing comes easily for UCLA this season.

But slowly, it seems to be coming.

The Bruins have had injuries, NCAA investigations, intense scrutiny on a Shabazz Muhammad birthday present from his mom (Gucci backpack) and occasional carping from an UCLA alum (Bill Walton).

Yet, here the Bruins sit with three games left, tied for first place. UCLA got there the hard way, laboring through a 79-74 overtime victory over Arizona State on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion.

The victory left the Bruins (21-7, 11-4) tied with Oregon for first in the Pac-12, though they had to work a little extra after letting a 67-62 lead slip away in the last two minutes of regulation.

Jordan Adams followed a jumper with two free throws, securing the victory in overtime.

It was only appropriate that one of the Bruins’ freshmen wrapped things up. It was a night where the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class shined.

Adams had 22 points, while Kyle Anderson and Muhammad both had 21. Anderson also had 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Even Tony Parker had a hand, even though he scored only two points, giving the Bruins 10 physical minutes without forward Travis Wear, who sat out a second game with a sprained foot. Wear missed the previous Arizona State game with a concussion and the Bruins looked groggy without him.

The day started with UCLA a half-game out of first place, behind Oregon and Arizona. The Bruins mimic Coach Ben Howland’s one-game-at-a-time mantra, but, like kids before Christmas, they couldn’t help peeking.

“There’s a lot of urgency,” Muhammad said. “We’re right there with Oregon and Arizona.”

Muhammad ran through the scenarios that can help the Bruins, starting Saturday against Arizona.

“Oregon has to play Colorado on the road and Arizona has to play us,” Muhammad said. “ We do what we have to do and we’re going to be in first place.”

The title is what the Bruins seek. But equally as important is finishing at least in fourth place because of Pac-12 tournament implications.

In a conference where parity seems to be the campaign slogan, there seems little extra advantage to finishing first. Being fourth or higher means you have to win three games in three nights instead of four in four to win the tournament.

“We look at it, but we try not to be too focused on it,” Adams said. He did go so far as to say that getting a first-round bye “will help a lot.”

The Bruins have a short bench that is limited to forward David Wear, guard Norman Powell and cameo appearances by Parker.

“That would be a big advantage and it is what we want,” Anderson said. “We just want to take care of business now and that will take care of itself.”

Business was good for the Bruins on Wednesday.

Arizona State (20-9, 9-7) shot 53% and led, 41-39, at halftime. Freshmen kept UCLA in the game.

The Sun Devils led, 23-14, when Muhammad went on an eight-point run. Then Adams went to work, scoring five consecutive points. Anderson handled the stretch run, scoring the Bruins’ last seven points.

Freshmen had all but three of UCLA’s points in the first half. Muhammad led the way with 15 points, Anderson had 13 and Adams eight.