That's when the fifth-ranked Bruins woke up and began playing like a team that reached the national final last year. UCLA took command with an 18-2 run and hung on for a 67-61 victory, handing the Sun Devils their school-record 15th straight loss.
Arron Afflalo scored 24 points and Darren Collison added a career-high 18 after missing the West Virginia game with a shoulder injury.
Afterward, the Bruins (22-3, 11-2 Pac-10) seemed relieved to remain atop the Pac-10, a half-game ahead of No. 10 Washington State.
"We were coming off a tough loss," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "That's a very long trip, and then to turn around and come back, believe me, I'm ecstatic getting a win here on the road. Any road win is huge."
For Arizona State (6-19, 0-14), a win anywhere would be huge. Jeff Pendergraph scored 14 points and Alan Morill added 11 for Arizona State (6-20, 0-14), which is trying to avoid becoming the first team to go winless in conference play since the Pac-10 expanded in 1978-79.
"Obviously, when you have the record we did coming in and you're facing a ranked team like UCLA, it's easy just to bow out and give up, and I thought our guys didn't do that," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "They fought hard and challenged them until the end."
The Sun Devils appeared ready to spring a massive upset midway through the second half.
Trailing 34-31 at halftime, ASU opened the second half with a 7-0 run. Arizona State point guard Derek Glasser got sick at halftime, but he looked fine when he hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cap the run.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils harassed the more talented Bruins with a relentless zone defense. UCLA had one basket, five missed shots and three turnovers in its first seven possessions after intermission, and Howland burned two timeouts trying to calm his team.
The Sun Devils eventually surged to a 49-39 lead, and the Wells Fargo Arena crowd of 8,071 was howling.
But that's when UCLA began playing like, well, UCLA.
The Bruins answered with an 18-2 run, with Collison hitting three 3-pointers and Afflalo another to put UCLA ahead 57-51.
"We kept our composure, came together and started talking over things," Collison said. "We can't be perfect all the time. The main thing against a zone is to keep attacking it."
Collison's shoulder was heavily iced as he spoke to reporters afterward.
"It's sore a little bit," he said. "When I started, the adrenaline gets going and I didn't feel it.
"Now is not the time to feel sorry," Collison said. "We're coming down to the wire in the Pac-10 and all we're trying to do is win a Pac-10 championship."
Even after UCLA's big run, the Sun Devils wouldn't go away. They pulled to within 59-56 when Christian Polk banked in a 3-pointer with 44 seconds to go. And they trailed by only 63-61 when Serge Angounou's 3-pointer bounced around the rim and fell in with 16 seconds left.
But the Bruins wouldn't miss at the free throw line. They went 10-for-10 in the final 54 seconds, with Afflalo making six and Josh Shipp the other four.
Afflalo has scored in double figures in 24 straight games, the longest active streak in the Pac-10.
"You'd like to be consistent with the way you play, but teams are preparing for us now," Afflalo said. "You've got a bull's-eye on your chest. I still expected for us to come out and win."
It won't get any easier for the Bruins when they complete their trip to the desert Saturday at No. 19 Arizona.
The good news for UCLA is that the Bruins won't be staring at the possibility of a third straight loss when they head south to Tucson.
"We were fortunate tonight, frankly, to get out of here with the win," Howland said. "But we played wel down the stretch and made free throws when we needed them."