UCLA wants to leave Arizona State feeling deserted once more

Arizona State forward Marcus Bagley will return against UCLA after missing three games with a leg injury.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Mick Cronin could have sought input from Chip Kelly this week in assembling his scouting report.

It was only a month ago that UCLA’s football team headed to Arizona State to face the Sun Devils, who were coming off a three-week layoff because of COVID-19 issues. The Bruins prevailed in that game, providing a template for what UCLA’s basketball team hopes to do Thursday night at Desert Financial Arena against Arizona State.

In a repeat scenario, UCLA will face a team that’s coming off a three-week layoff because of COVID-19 issues, the Sun Devils’ last three games having been postponed. Arizona State last played on Dec. 16, losing to Texas El Paso at home after failing to hold an eight-point halftime lead.


Among the challenges his team will face as it attempts to regain a rhythm, Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley acknowledged his players were struggling merely to run the court this week in practice.

“I just could tell Monday and Tuesday that the guys were pretty winded,” Hurley said.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin will have some weapons to fill in for Chris Smith, but the challenge will be finding players to lower the workload.

Jan. 5, 2021

Cronin made Arizona State sound like the 2015 Golden State Warriors this week while discussing their ability to spread the floor with shooters, but the Sun Devils mostly went clank-clank-clank while making only one of 18 three-pointers against UTEP.

Hurley hopes the return of freshman forward Marcus Bagley after sitting out the last three games with a lower left leg injury can help the Sun Devils (4-3 overall, 1-0 Pac-12 Conference) more closely resemble the team that won three of its first four games, including a road victory over California.

The Sun Devils are also seeking more assertiveness from senior guard Remy Martin, whose passive style in the season’s early going has resulted in him making a career-low 27.6% of his three-pointers.

There’s no denying that Arizona State can be among the toughest teams in the conference to defend when its offense is going full tilt. The Sun Devils scorched the Bruins last season when the teams met in the desert, making 14 of 24 three-pointers (58.3%) on the way to a runaway 84-66 victory.

UCLA junior guard Jules Bernard said the Bruins (7-2, 3-0) were “focusing on how to sort of build walls in the half court and in transition” to prevent the Sun Devils from the dribble penetration that can lead to kick outs for open three-pointers.


While the UCLA men’s basketball team has excelled offensively this season, the Bruins’ defensive struggles against Utah weren’t an anomaly.

Jan. 1, 2021

“We’re going to try to make them shoot tough threes,” Bernard said.

Offensively, the Bruins are going to try and play keep away, hoarding the ball as much as possible against a team that’s leading the conference by forcing 17.3 turnovers per game. The Sun Devils are susceptible rebounding, however, their 31.1 rebounds per game ranking as the lowest in the conference and triggering a new mantra from Cronin.

“Throw it up and go get it before you turn it over,” Cronin said with a laugh. “They try to speed you up and they do a good job of it and we’re going to have to make sure we don’t let that happen, that we take care of the basketball and get shots up because my guys know it — I say it all the time — you can’t rebound a turnover.”

UCLA committed 14 turnovers against Colorado on Saturday in its first game without Chris Smith, the senior guard who was lost for the season after suffering a torn knee ligament two days earlier against Utah. Cronin said he anticipated freshman guard Jaylen Clark playing a much bigger role going forward to help compensate for the loss of Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder.