UCLA scored basket after basket, a runaway starting to resemble something of a game again, when its two best players had a chance to further cut the deficit.
Kris Wilkes came up with a steal but missed an out-of-control layup.
Jaylen Hands pulled up for a deep three-point shot but airballed it.
They were two plays that symbolized a sad ending to a dismal season.
It’s all mercifully over after UCLA’s 83-72 loss to Arizona State on Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal at T-Mobile Arena.
“You never want to see something end like that,” Hands said after scoring 21 points in what could have been his final college game. “It obviously hurts a lot.”
The Bruins (17-16) decided they would not accept a bid to the NIT, which was unlikely anyway, preferring to shift the focus to finding their next coach and learning how much of their roster would come back next season.
“They’ll hire a very good coach, I’m sure, and hopefully there’s good days ahead for me,” interim coach Murry Bartow said after finishing a 21/2-month stint with a 10-10 record. “I’m sure there are.”
Hands and Wilkes thanked the coaching staff for sticking with them after Steve Alford was fired in midseason and said they had not decided whether they would stay in college for another season.
It was hard for the players to exchange goodbyes in the locker room with so much uncertainty hovering over nearly half the roster.
Hands, Wilkes, Moses Brown, Chris Smith and Cody Riley all could declare for the NBA draft.
“I’m not worried about anything about the future right now,” Wilkes said. “I’m just trying to stay with my team, stay with them now, and whatever happens, happens.”
What happened Thursday against the Sun Devils (22-9) was more sloppy basketball.
Wilkes scored 25 points, making five of 11 three-point shots, but nobody else besides Hands reached double figures.
The Bruins didn’t get the step-up performances they needed in the absence of freshman guard David Singleton, who suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot Wednesday and won’t be able to resume basketball activities until June.
UCLA ended the first half in about the worst way imaginable, giving up a 14-0 run that turned a taut game into a rout. The Sun Devils’ surge featured four three-pointers, one from Kimani Lawrence after he spun around Smith, momentarily lost the ball and collected it for a 30-footer that fell through the net at the buzzer.
Lawrence’s teammates mobbed him in celebration as the Sun Devils raced off the court holding a 45-29 lead.
“Shots weren’t falling for us and they were getting some good looks and they were all falling for them, like even that circus shot to end the half,” Smith said. “It just felt like everything was going in for them and stuff wasn’t working for us.”
The Bruins varied their defense, using both man and zone, but couldn’t generate stops with the regularity they had in the first round against Stanford.
They also were out of sorts on offense in their first game without Singleton.
One of UCLA’s baskets in the first half shouldn’t even have counted. Brown clearly did not get a jump hook off before the shot clock expired, but officials counted Alex Olesinski’s tip-in as Arizona State fans roared in disapproval.
Arizona State opened the second half with another spurt to go ahead by 23 points before the Bruins made their final run, reeling off 13 consecutive points and eventually cutting the deficit to nine before the Sun Devils prevailed amid a flurry of free throws.
Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley suggested there was no more uncertainty about his team’s NCAA tournament chances after its third consecutive victory.
The Sun Devils will play Oregon in a semifinal Friday.
“After this game,” Hurley said, “what uncertainty?”
Arizona State has vacillated between really good (wins over top-ranked Kansas and Washington) and dreadful (blowout losses to Washington State and Vanderbilt), and the Sun Devils were a little of both against the Bruins. Romello White scored 19 points to lead five players in double figures.
The Bruins were left to contemplate more March sadness, failing to make the NCAA tournament for the second time in four seasons.
“There’s good days ahead for UCLA, and there’s great days ahead for these guys on this team,” Bartow said. “And I enjoyed being with them and coaching them.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch