UCLA Basketball Roundup and Stanford Preview

USA TODAY Sports

UCLA plays defense and now plays a Stanford team that should be an easy seventh straight win

Before getting to the game and what happen I want to talk a bit about Shabazz Muhammad. Since it was a win, let's talk about the good first. As the excellent Baxter Holmes observed, Shabazz may have had the play of the game, despite having a tough offensive game.

Shabazz Muhammad couldn't connect, missing left and right, long and short, anything and everything.

But with the final bell tolling, with momentum and a win slipping, and with unease spreading throughout Pauley Pavilion, the UCLA freshman delivered a knock-out blow.

"The guy's got ice water in his veins," Bruins Coach Ben Howland said after his team's 79-65 win against California in its Pac-12 Conference opener Thursday in front of a crowd of 9.406.

Indeed. Muhammad made a clutch three-point shot with 4 minutes 11 seconds left that pushed UCLA's lead back to double digits and helped seal its sixth consecutive win.

For two games in a row Shabazz has hit the dagger that has in this case iced the game and against Missouri won the game. The Bruins have a "go to" on offense and on that side of the ball he is living up to the hype.

But then there is the Peter "talking points" Yoon story. It praised Shabazz's defense effort.

. Shabazz Muhammad, for instance, had his best defensive game of the season, especially effort-wise. He showed a high level of energy and was able to shut down his man several times in one-on-one situations. Muhammad is known as an offensive threat, a scorer who is an average defender but said he came to UCLA to improve defensively under Howland and is dedicating himself to doing just that.

"In the paper, people say I can't play defense, but I can play defense," Muhammad said. "That really motivates me. That's why I practice and I'm really working hard on it. I thought tonight was a defensive-state-of-mind game tonight, and I thought I did a good job."

While I think Shabazz did play harder on defense, it is important to note that Shabazz covered Tyrone Wallace a kid Cal had to play. Take away Tyrone's four ugly misses from three and the 35% shooter was 4-5 and beat his average of six points a game. I think Shabazz did try harder but he still had only one defense rebound which means for the last five games he has five defensive rebounds (And Cal out rebounded UCLA 44-36). Thus it is nice to talk about defense and Shabazz; the reality is he is really special on offense, his defense still needs work.

However, there were some good defensive efforts. Norman Powell was rightly singled out:

Of Powell, who teamed with Adams to hold Pac-12 leading scorer Allen Crabbe to five points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first half, Howland called it "one of his best games of his career here."

"His defense was absolutely unbelievable in that first half," Howland said of Powell. "He was great defensively. A lot of what he did doesn't show up in stats, and I'm really pleased and happy for him."

Others chipped in:

Much of the task fell to Bruins point guard Larry Drew II, whom the coaching staff has hounded in recent weeks to step up his defensive intensity. Head coach Ben Howland has been happy with the returns lately; he has often praised Drew's athleticism, and has high hopes for him as a perimeter defender. . . .

Cobbs and Crabbe, who entered the day averaging 37.3 combined points, scored just 11 points together in the first half. Cobbs shot 3 of 9 from the field, while Crabbe - the Pac-12's leading scorer - missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. The former Pac-10 Freshman of the Year shot 2 of 9, but had four rebounds and two assists. . .

Parker checked in at 9:06 and missed two free throws 15 seconds later, but later made contributions at both ends of the floor. Shortly after getting his hands up to stop a drive by Cobbs, Parker set a nice screen against the Cal guard on the other end before hustling back for a defensive rebound.

The Bears were missing backup guard Brandon Smith, who suffered a concussion two games ago against Prairie View A&M.

Although this article doesn't explain it, while Drew's efforts at times were good, Powell was a key to the first half defense and Parker contributed in his brief time. It is also worth noting that Cal was really short on players as Smith should have started. But let's close with the player of the game for UCLA, Kyle Anderson and his friend Shabazz:

UCLA had piled up five straight wins with its high-octane offense. In their Pac-12 opener, the Bruins got it done with defense.

Kyle Anderson had 19 points and 11 of his 12 rebounds on the defensive glass in UCLA's sixth straight victory, 79-65 over California on Thursday night.

. . .

"It all started with defense," Anderson said. "We got some stops and were able to score on the other end. When somebody gets beat off the ball, someone is there to help."

[Shabazz Muhammad said}:That's why I came here, to improve my defense, and it really shows."

I suggest they watch the defense in UCLA games from 2005-7 but it was a win and on to Stanford.

The Stanford game should be a contrast of styles. In something I did not think was possible, a PAC 12 team shoots worse than USC. Stanford guards are the types that may miss an open layup. So while UCLA is the best shooting team in the conference Stanford is the worst. Stanford is not the best on defense either.

But Stanford could, emphasis could, cause UCLA's defensive problems. The reason is Stanford has a number of decent bigs who can score and just did against a good defense team in USC. And remember last night Cal's Richard Solomon and David Kravish had 22 rebounds against UCLA including 13 on offense. There is interior weakness.

Into that breach, Stanford will throw the talented Dwight Powell, who is coming closer to his potential. Next, is Josh Huestis who is not that big but block shots including Zeek Jones last second shot at an attempted game winner last season. John Gage is another big, not as good, but did have a good game against us last year. And that is just it. We shut down Crabbe for part of the game last night and Cobbs for the whole game but we were killed on the boards by Cal. Stanford arguably has more depth inside as they have a number of bodies to throw in here, including others I have not mentioned.

Of course at everything else Stanford is not very good. Stanford allowed a terrible shooting USC team to shoot over 50%. Stanford's guards shoot 36 and 32 percent from the field and 21 and 20 from three. Against USC Chasson Randle was 0-6 and Aaron Bright was 3-10 and 0-5 from 3.

So the mission for the game for UCLA is rebound on defense. On offense this should be an easy game to extend the win streak to seven games and go a perfect 6-0 on the home stand. UCLA has to win these games because the PAC 12 will get harder going forward.

Go Bruins.

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