Eric Boateng had 16 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and a career-best four blocked shots as Arizona State breathed a little more life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a wire-to-wire 56-46 victory over UCLA on Saturday.
An Arizona State fan gave a life-sized flag of Great Britain to senior Eric Boateng as he left Ned Wulk Court for possibly the final time.
He might as well have been given a torch and key to the campus.
The audience chanted his name more than once during the Sun Devils’ 56-46 victory against UCLA on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena in the last regular-season home game of the season. They stuck around as the Sun Devils did a victory lap, and seemingly everyone wanted a piece of the soft-spoken 6-foot-10 England native whose basketball days began late but have crescendoed at a time this team needs it most.
“The way he’s playing right now, he’s carrying us every game,” senior guard Derek Glasser said. “Every game we come in here and say it’s his best game of the year and the next time it’s the best game of the year. I hope I can keep saying that.”
The Sun Devils (22-9, 12-6 Pac-10) are the No. 2 seed in next week’s Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles for the first time since 1980-81, but they missed out on a chance to tie for their first regular-season conference title because California beat Stanford on Saturday.
ASU will play Stanford, the seventh seed, at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday at Staples Center.
Once picked to finish seventh in the conference, the Sun Devils have won six of their last seven and eight of their last 10 games entering postseason play. It also means ASU went 32-22 (.593) in Pac-10 games the past three seasons, second only to UCLA, and won 12 conference games for the first time since 1994-95.
Boateng’s regular-season career ended with a career day: 14 rebounds (six offensive) and three blocks to go with 16 points.
He also didn’t commit a turnover, had one personal foul, kept possessions alive and effectively passed out of a couple double-teams.
In the past four games, Boateng is 22-for-28 shooting (78.6 percent) and is averaging 10 rebounds.
“He was terrific. ... He’s been really good now on a consistent basis for us, and there’s been more than one occasion he wouldn’t let us lose,” Sendek said. “I thought (Saturday) was one of those kinds of efforts. His effort level was incredible and productivity was outstanding.”
Boateng’s teammates were a combined 13-for-37 from the field. One game after Rihards Kuksiks found his shooting touch against USC, it disappeared again — he went 0-for-9 from behind the 3-point line and committed five turnovers — but he also had 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Shortly after Boateng, Glasser and Jerren Shipp were given framed jerseys during a pregame ceremony, ASU took a 13-0 lead in the first four minutes, and UCLA coach Ben Howland was forced to call two timeouts before the first TV timeout.
ASU led 32-21 at halftime, but Nikola Dragovic warmed up and got UCLA within five points, then 40-34 with just over 11 minutes remaining. But Boateng kept a possession alive and scored inside, and Kuksiks followed with two free throws.
In a three-minute stretch late, Boateng had a dunk, a layup, a blocked shot and two offensive rebounds.
A first-round loss in the Pac-10 tournament would put a serious dent in the Sun Devils’ NCAA tournament aspirations, but a late and unlikely savior wants no part of early endings.
“No matter what, I’ve always tried to give as much as possible,” Boateng said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do. I enjoy playing here. I enjoy my teammates, the coaches. I’m thankful for the opportunity I have. I just want to keep this going because it’s fun.”