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March 6, 2010Senior Day is always emotionally charged and as a result sluggish starts not particularly uncommon.
But Arizona State didn't display any jitters or have any breakdowns early in its final regular season home game for seniors Eric Boateng, Derek Glasser and Jerren Shipp Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Instead, it was visiting UCLA which looked completely out of sorts to start the contest, as it missed its first four shots and had two turnovers during the first four minutes of action as ASU raced to a 13-0 lead it would not relinquish, eventually winning 56-46 in front of 9,039.
The win clinched second place in the Pac-10 for the Sun Devils (22-9 overall; 12-6 in the Pac-10) for the first time since 1981, who then watched Cal beat Stanford later in the afternoon to prevent the teams from tying atop the conference.
ASU, as the No. 2 seed, will play No. 7 Stanford Thursday at 8:30 p.m. pacific (9:30 p.m. Arizona time) at Staples Center in Los Angeles in the first-round of the Pac-10 Tournament. The winner of that game will advance to play the winner of No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 Oregon State.
For a team attempting to play itself into an at-large NCAA Tournament selection, the win was an important one.
"I think it really helped," ASU coach Herb Sendek said, when asked of the game's impact on ASU's Tournament aspirations. "We have to focus on the part that we can control which is our preparation and our effort in our next game but certainly our team has played very good basketball now for the last eight weeks or so. We started 0-2 and now we've won 12 of 16 and so that's good but we've got to move forward and get ready for the next game next week."
Boateng arguably saved his best performance for last in Tempe, with 16 points and career highs of 14 rebounds and four blocks.
"He was terrific," Sendek said of Boateng. "He's been really good now on a consistent basis for. There's been more than one occasion where he just wouldn't let us lose. I thought today was another one of those kinds of efforts. His effort level was incredible and his productivity outstanding."
UCLA (13-17; 8-10) cut into ASU's 11 point halftime advantage with a 9-3 run to start the second period, but a deficit of 35-30 was as close as it would get in the game.
Malcolm Lee and Nikola Dragovic had 15 points apiece to lead the Bruins, who made just 4-of-20 shots from behind the 3-point stripe and were out-rebounded 39-to-30.
"It feels good to win first of all," Boateng said. "That's the aim. I really didn't care about anything else, and then just to end the regular season with a win. That's been my main focus and the only thing that's ran through my mind. The win is the most meaningful thing to me. Everything else is great but just the fact that we won and I'm so thankful for my teammates and coaches for us all coming together and making it happen. That's the most meaningful thing to me."
The pregame acknowledgement of ASU's seniors approximately 15 minutes before tip-off had more fans than usual in their seats early, and there were tears shed by players, coaches and parents, among others.
"It was hard because we have a routine," Boateng said. "You warm up, try to prepare yourself mentally, you go through that. It kind of takes your mind away a little bit. I kind of had to slap myself and say, 'Hey, we have a game here where we really have to win.' It was hard but I enjoyed it and I'm thankful."
That ASU would come out shooting the ball so well -- the Sun Devils made three of their first four shots to make it a 7-0 game at the 17:46 mark -- helped ensure there would be no emotional hangover from the earlier festivities.
"It was definitely an emotional rollercoaster," said Glasser, who finished second on the team with nine points "To go out there before the game and say thank you to everybody who, they've been with us for four years through the lows and the highs. I hope we can get back to the NCAA Tournament this year and keep this going."
As much significance as the game carried considering the Sun Devils were playing to keep their NCAA homes alive and this senior group has contributed to the program's first three consecutive 20-plus win seasons since 1961-63, there is still more they'd like to accomplish and so the emotionality of the afternoon was still somewhat subdued.
"It's a great celebration today and we pay tribute to all of their contributions to the university both on and off the court, but today's not the day to say goodbye," Sendek said. "We have the Pac-10 Tournament ahead of us and then the season continues. It's a celebration, it's a pause, obviously it's a landmark with it being their last home game but I wasn't ready to say goodbye today."