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January 8, 2012

Smith, Bruins, wear out Sun Devils on interior

ANAHEIM -- Playing with only six scholarship players on the second leg of its Los Angeles-area road trip, Arizona State was sure to battle a little extra strain physically Saturday no matter the opponent.

UCLA's Joshua Smith did his best to make sure some of ASU's players will be feeling it for another day or two, at least.

Smith, a 6-foot-10, 305 pound center, wore out the Sun Devils on their defensive interior, scoring a game-high 18 points in a 75-58 victory in front of 9,096 at the Honda Center, in doing so, preventing ASU from an unanticipated road sweep.

ASU played surprisingly well short-handed Thursday in a win over USC, but now sits 5-10 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 play. UCLA, playing at several different venues this year as its famous on-campus arena, Pauley Pavilion, is being remodeled, improved to 9-7 and 2-2.

"We're not talking about sweeps, craps or splits," ASU head coach Herb Sendek said of his club. "We're talking about playing better. We're talking about playing as hard as we can and executing. We're focused on us. I think we made some real progress coming together as a team this week.

The Sun Devils closed ranks after Sendek left three players, junior Chris Colvin and sophomores Kyle Cain and Keala King, in Tempe on suspension, leaving them with just nine players dressing against USC and UCLA.

Freshman Jonathan Gilling led ASU with 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting including 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Junior Trent Lockett, playing out of position at point guard, had 12 points, as did sophomore wing Chanse Creekmur.

Forward Travis Wear had 16 points for the Bruins, most of which came around the basket or at the free throw line as ASU struggled to handle UCLA's interior size and strength.

Smith was the biggest culprit. After not playing against Arizona Thursday due to a concussion, he gave ASU headaches in 21 efficient minutes.

"What it looks like on the chalk board and the reality of actually contesting his strength and size is a whole other matter," Sendek said of Smith. "He just caught the ball in too many instances too close to the basket and then we fouled him and gave him And-1s. We almost can't even foul him because fouling him is like a fly landing on him."

With ASU starting center Ruslan Pateev only able to play 19 minutes before fouling out, the Bruins won the rebounding edge, 31-24. Taking seven extra offensive rebounds and generating seven more turnovers than the Sun Devils led to a field goal attempt disparity of 57-41.

Those numbers allowed the Bruins to turn what started as a 24-14 ASU lead 10 minutes into the game into a one-sided affair for most of the second half.

In a 25 minute stretch from the eight minute mark of the first half through the five minute mark of the second half, UCLA 55-19.

Smith was relatively quiet until the last couple minutes of the first half, when he hit a layup to tied the game at 30-30 and then had an And-1 to make it 33-30 at halftime. He didn't start the game, but was on the floor to begin the second half, and from there took over.

"I have never played against a player as big as Josh Smith and he was just a big, big man," Gilling said. "I'm not that big. I tried to do whatever I could but he was just really strong and they gave us a lot of problems down there."

Pateev had 10 points, hitting three straight field goal attempts in the game's first five minutes and the Sun Devils took an 18-8 edge before the second media timeout. Then his foul troubles began and ASU couldn't score from the post while the Bruins had countless point-blank looks at the basket.

At the end, the Sun Devils were perhaps seeing stars but also looking at bright spots.

"Jon is really encouraging right now," Sendek said of Gilling. "He's playing with a good measure of confidence. He's getting some great experience and he's making shots for us. We also have him in position where he's serving as a playmaker quite a lot out on the perimeter. He's still learing how to handle some of the physicality and pace of the college game.

"I think Trent's leadership has been as good as we've had. I think he's taken it up a couple steps. I think the guys are doing a good job talking to one another. There's some very good things you won't be able to measure with numbers that are important to our program and our culture moving forward."


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