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February 12, 2009
Everything has been going UCLA's way lately, and with four straight blowout wins the Bruins hardly resemble the team that completely fell apart down the stretch in a loss to Arizona State less than four weeks ago.
The 11th-ranked Bruins look to continue their surge and avenge last month's painful overtime loss to the 18th-ranked Sun Devils when they meet on Thursday night in Tempe in a matchup involving two of the Pac-10's top teams.
On Saturday, UCLA (19-4, 8-2) took a break from crushing conference foes to rout Notre Dame 89-63. The Bruins took a 14-2 lead in the opening minutes and never looked back to win their fourth straight at Pauley Pavilion.
Senior center Alfred Aboya, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, has been instrumental to UCLA's run.
Named the Pac-10 player of the week on Monday, Aboya is averaging 14.5 points on 63.9 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds in the last four games after scoring 12 points and grabbing five boards in his previous two games combined.
UCLA has outscored its last four opponents by an average of 22.8 points.
"It's obvious we've been performing at a new level and just improving as a team," Bruins coach Ben Howland said.
During its winning streak, UCLA is averaging 85.8 points on 55.4 percent shooting - including 49.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Bruins' defense also has been solid, forcing an average of 18.5 turnovers.
"It's our intensity," said point guard Darren Collison, who had 17 points against the Irish. "We raised the level a notch on the defensive end and guys started playing their role harder. When our intensity is at a high level, we're hard to beat."
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek realizes shutting down the Bruins won't be easy.
"Right now, it's very reasonable to say they are playing as well as any team in the country," Sendek said.
UCLA wasn't as overpowering on Jan. 17 when the Sun Devils visited Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins led 54-43 with eight minutes remaining, but failed to score after that as Arizona State rallied to send the game into overtime. The Sun Devils went on to win 61-58 and snap an eight-game losing streak to the Bruins.
James Harden made two free throws with 21 seconds left to go in regulation, and his basket with 35 seconds remaining in overtime put the Sun Devils ahead to stay.
Harden finished with a game-high 24 points against the Bruins, and is averaging a conference-best 21.9 points. He was limited to just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting last Saturday against Oregon State, but Arizona State still won 49-38.
Senior forward Jeff Pendergraph led the Sun Devils (18-5, 7-4) with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and had 18 points on 9-of-10 from the field against UCLA last month.
Arizona State expects to have point guard Derek Glasser back on Thursday. Glasser sat out against Oregon State as a precaution after he ran into a pick and ended up motionless on the court for several minutes in the Sun Devils' 66-57 win over Oregon on Feb. 5.
Glasser is second in the Pac-10 with 2.1 assists to every turnover, and Arizona State will likely need him against the Bruins. A victory would keep alive the Sun Devils' hopes of their first conference title since joining the Pac-10 in 1978-79.
Arizona State has lost four straight home games to UCLA since a 74-62 overtime victory on Feb. 12, 2004, and has not swept a home-and-home season series from the Bruins since 2002-03.
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