Two of the top freshmen in the country will square off when Jahii Carson and the ninth-seed Arizona State Sun Devils clash with Shabazz Muhammad and the top-seed UCLA Bruins in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Arizona State was involved in an overtime thriller against Stanford in the first round but survived with an 89-88 victory. The win ended a four-game losing streak that the Sun Devils ended the season on and improved them to 21-11 overall. Arizona State is still clinging to fading NCAA Tournament hopes and will likely need a few more wins to get there.
When the dust finally settled on the regular season it was UCLA that secured a the regular season title and No. 1 seed for this tournament. The Bruins were certainly not the most consistent team in the league at times, but with victories in five of their last six games, they were able to get past Arizona, Oregon and California for the best record in conference play (13-5). UCLA was last the top seed in the conference tournament during the 2008 event when it rolled to the title en route to an appearance in the Final Four.
During the regular season these teams split their two matchups. The all-time series has not been nearly as even with UCLA owning a 62-18 edge against Arizona State.
The winner of this game will move into the semifinals against either Colorado or Arizona.
Arizona State had an eight-point lead against Stanford with just over a minute left in regulation. However a missed free-throw attempt from Evan Gordon opened the door for the Cardinal, who hit three shots from beyond the arc in the last 60 seconds. Arizona State made 2-of-4 shots from the field and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to survive in the extra session.
Carson (18.2 ppg, 4.9 apg) certainly proved why he was named Co-Freshman of the Year along with Muhammad. Carson poured in a Pac-12 freshman record for points in a tournament game with 34. It was his 15th 20+ point effort of the season and third in the last four games. Carrick Felix (14.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) also looked just as strong in the postseason as during the year, hanging up a 19-point, 12-rebound double-double in the victory. The 6-foot-6 swingman has now had a double-double in five of the last nine games. Gordon (10.2 ppg) and Jonathan Gilling (9.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) are solid complementary scorers, while Jordan Bachynski (9.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.5 bpg) has a knack for protecting the rim.
UCLA secured its regular-season title with a 61-54 win on the road over Washington in the season finale. The Bruins outscored the Huskies 29-9 in points off turnovers in the contest, as Muhammad scored a game-high 21 points.
The Bruins are more than likely a lock to grab a spot in the NCAA Tournament regardless of how they perform in the tournament as they rank at the top of the conference in scoring (75 pg), assists (16.7 pg) and field-goal percentage (.458). Muhammad (18.2 ppg) lived up to the huge hype in his freshman season and was one of the best scorers in the conference. The 6-foot-6 swingman scored in double figures in all but one game and reached the 20-point plateau 13 times. Larry Drew II (7.3 ppg, 7.7 apg), Jordan Adams (15.2 ppg) and Kyle Anderson (9.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.6 apg) headline the rest of the talented roster for the Bruins.