Tuesday, February 16, 2016

UCLA Bruins 78 at Arizona State Sun Devils 65 (NCAA Basketball, Pac 12) - February 14, 2016

Renting a car in San Francisco during Super Bowl week was an expensive proposition, with airport rates exceeding $60 a day before taxes. However, there was a way to avoid this rip-off: a one-way rental to Arizona, which dropped prices to about $12 a day, including taxes. Thus after spending 12 days in California, I had to get to Phoenix to finish the trip. Fortunately, there were games to see, starting with the UCLA Bruins at Arizona State on Sunday night.

It is 720 miles drive between Stockton and Tempe, about ten hours assuming no traffic. Fortunately, it was the Presidents Day weekend, and after a three-hour jaunt on Sunday night following the Stockton Heat game, I spent Monday heading east through Pasadena and the Inland Empire before connecting with I-10 for the long homestretch. There was no traffic at any point on the trip, and I arrived in Tempe just before 6:00, having lost an hour as Arizona remains on Mountain Time in the winter.

The Sun Devils play out of Wells Fargo Arena, located next to their football stadium. The venue opened in 1974 and still looks quite new, fitting in nicely with the desert surroundings. I was looking for a parking spot and lucked out finding a free lot just a short walk away, a consequence of this being a Sunday night. With the team struggling, tickets were easy to get at the box office, with the cheapest just $13. Gates had just opened as I approached the ticket window, so I didn't bother looking around for freebies, wanting to get inside as quickly as possible. The view from my seat is below.

Inside, the single concourse is quite narrow and gets congested at places. There is a Hall of Fame along the walls, but it can be difficult to read as people are constantly passing through. On the top are pictures of past championship teams but there are no lights up there, so they are also tough to decipher. I spent a few minutes wandering around the concourse, but eventually it became too crowded, so I went into the seating bowl.

The Sun Devils colours are maroon and gold, and the interior of the arena is dominated by these two shades. The only other colour on display is the blue on the Arizona flag.

There are three seating levels, but as the arena only holds 10,754, there are no bad seats here. There are plenty of retired numbers and at the top of the seating bowl is a mural that proclaims "Home of the Sun Devils" and shows a number of current and former athletes.

A simple scoreboard is above center court, while stats boards are above each end zone.

The dance team is another highlight, with 30 members, they more resemble an NFL cheerleading squad than a college pep club.

Football overshadows basketball here and it shows in the simplicity of Wells Fargo Arena. The last time a Sun Devil team made the Sweet Sixteen was in 1995, and that has since been vacated by the NCAA. Prior to that was 1975, when they lost to eventual champion UCLA in the Elite Eight.

As it turns out, it was those very same Bruins in town on this night to take on the Sun Devils. Well, not the same players obviously, but you get the drift. Both teams were struggling in Pac 12 play, with UCLA at 4-7 and ASU at 4-8. The first half was fast paced with only 11 fouls and good shooting. The lead changed hands a few times before UCLA's Isaac Hamilton hit a late three and Thomas Welsh (#40 above) followed with a jumper to take the Bruins into the break up 37-35.

The second half should have seen UCLA falter, as they now shooting foul shots in front of the ASU student section. Whenever this happens, the Curtain of Distraction is brought out in an attempt to the bother the shooter. Two sets of closed curtains are placed behind the basket and some students dressed up in strange garb ready themselves behind them. As the shooter sets, the curtains are opened, and the distractions jump out, making noise and dancing around. You can see the curtains opened in the shot above. The Curtain of Distraction recently gained national attention when Michael Phelps appeared shirtless with several gold medals around his neck. That stunt worked as the Oregon State shooter missed both free throws as ASU routed the Beavers 86-68.

On this night though, the distraction did not help much. UCLA maintained their halftime lead, but ASU kept it close. With nine minutes left, Hamilton fouled Andre Spight on a three-point shot (the second of three times the Bruins would do that) and Spight made all three free throws to get his team within 58-53. Unfortunately, the next time that happened, Spight only made one of three shots, and the Bruins rode those misses to an 11-1 run over four minutes, including sinking six straight freebies despite the best efforts of the curtain's inhabitants. That pretty much ended it for the Sun Devils, who missed five in a row down the stretch as UCLA won 78-65.

Only the second home loss on the trip, but a fun experience nonetheless and one that you should get to if you haven't already.



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