By his own admission, Arizona State forward Rihards Kuksiks hasn't been himself the last several games. That changed on Thursday night against USC.
Kuksiks scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, including two free throws with 14.6 seconds remaining, and the Sun Devils held on to beat the Trojans, 59-54, in Tempe, Ariz., to secure at least third place in the Pacific-10 Conference.
“I’m just coming back,” said Kuksiks, who had averaged 7.9 points over Arizona State’s last eight games. “I was somewhere else for a couple games. But I’m back. My teammates found me, and I made my shots.”
Derek Glasser scored 11 points, including the 1,000th of his career, and Ty Abbott had nine for the Sun Devils (21-9 overall, 11-6 Pac-10), who won for the seventh time in nine games.
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Marcus Simmons and Mike Gerrity had 11 points each for the Trojans (16-13, 8-9), who are 2-6 on the road in the Pac-10.
Marcus Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 18 seconds left to pull the Trojans within 55-54. But after two free throws by Kuksiks, Eric Boateng blocked Dwight Lewis’ jumper with six seconds left to secure the win.
“We wanted to drive and kick (the ball out), but you have to drive and kick, not drive and shoot,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We didn’t play really smart down the stretch, and that cost us the game.”
Kuksiks finished 8 of 13 from the floor and 6 of 9 on 3-pointers. Of the 17 field goals the Sun Devils made, 11 were 3-pointers.
“We didn’t get anything easy,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “It was really, really hard to score.”
Arizona State led 23-21 at halftime despite hitting just one field goal and scoring four points during the final 8:03 of the first half.
At Arizona 78, UCLA 73: Kyle Fogg made seven of 10 3-pointers en route to a career-high 26 points – 19 in the second half – and the Wildcats (15-14, 9-8) rallied from 14 down in the second half to beat the Bruins (13-16, 8-9).
At UCLA 63, Arizona State 59: Jasmine Dixon had 14 points and seven rebounds as the Bruins (21-7, 14-3) beat the Sun Devils (17-11, 9-8) to win for the 11th time in 12 games.
At USC 55, Arizona 53: Kari LaPlante scored 13 points and Briana Gilbreath added 10 as the Trojans (17-11, 11-6) beat the Wildcats (13-15, 6-11). Arizona had a chance to win it, but Brooke Jackson missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.