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December 31, 2009Los Angeles -- Arizona State knew UCLA junior Nikola Dragovic was a better shooter than his 21.7 percent from 3-point range though the Bruins' first dozen games would indicate. According to junior guard Jamelle McMillan, the Sun Devils put a high emphasis on Dragovic in their scouting report.
Apparently not high enough.
Dragovic went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half and UCLA made a decade-best 15-of-18 field goal attempts in the period to jump to an 11 point advantage at intermission before holding on for a 72-70 win over the Sun Devils in front of 8,008 fans at Pauley Pavilion.
"When you have guys who are capable of doing that, I mean I guess not necessarily consistently, but when they are able to do that, we knew he was able to do that -- it was on the board in all capital letters, Dragovic --you gotta expect that, it can't be a shock to you, it can't be a surprise," McMillan said.
Trailing by double digits at the half, the Sun Devils used a 17-4 run to get back into the game in the second half, but a potential winning 3-point shot by senior Jerren Shipp at the game's final buzzer was blocked by sophomore Jerime Anderson.
The Bruins looked nothing like the team that lost to Cal State Fullerton, Portland and Long Beach State in the Pac-10 opener for both squads, with Dragovic leading the way with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting including 6-of-8 from behind the 3-point line.
Senior Mike Roll made all four of his 3-pointers and chipped in 12 points, while all five UCLA starters finished in double figures.
"It was a combination of them making every shot -- usually teams don't even shoot 83 percent in warm ups or shoot arounds -- and obviously our defense wasn't very good," Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek said.
Junior Rihards Kuksiks led ASU with 15 points, but they all came in the first half and he missed several wide open key 3-point attempts after intermission and bypassed the game's final shot, passing instead to Shipp.
"We didn't have a timeout," Sendek said of the final sequence. "We thought our best opportunity at that point was to do what we had been doing pretty effectively the last several possessions; scramble the floor with five guards and attack the basket and hopefully get a [3-pointer]."
If there was a bright spot for the Sun Devils it was their bench play. Trailing 47-31 after a quick 5-0 run by UCLA to start the second half, Sendek sat seniors Derek Glasser, Eric Boateng and Kuksiks, inserting freshmen Demetrius Walker, Trent Lockett and sophomore Taylor Rohde. Soon thereafter, freshman Victor Rudd replaced Lockett after Lockett had two errors in the span of a minute.
Led by Walker, it was that unit which led the team back from a game that appeared headed for a blowout and kept several starters, most prominently Glasser, on the bench for nearly half of the second period.
"It was really unfortunate for us today, to start off this way. But it's the beauty of the sport, the beauty of the season," McMillan said. "You have the day in between and you have to get back on track. I think our freshmen though came in and gave us a good spark. Demetrius came in and was our life, he brought us back. Without him we would have gotten run out."
"It feels great," Walker said. "This is what I've been waiting for all year, for coach to call my number. Once he called it I thought that I was able to give a certain energy and spark off the bench like we needed.
"I'm starting to be more consistent in practice and that's what coach has talked to me about is being consistent. He said, 'Just be ready and if I call on you, you better go out there and play hard and do what you need to do.' And that's what I did today."
Now the Sun Devils have to go into Saturday's game at USC needing a win to get the road split they hoped to achieve at a bare minimum.
"It's a gauntlet, you look at our schedule," Sendek said. "Everyone says the Pac-10 is down or whatever. For us it's not down; it's extremely challenging and now we have another tough road game on Saturday."