Let's get the obvious out of the way, this was a game against Washington State, a bad team.
When in doubt, UCLA needs to only check its schedule for Cougars.
The Bruins entered Saturday night having lost three of their last five, their latest victory requiring a buzzer-beating game-winner. They had spent three straight games trying to set new lows in shooting percentage, achieving that in Thursday's ugly win over Washington.
Hardly a full tailspin, but this was a team in a slow, steady spiral.
That changed when Washington State walked into Pauley Pavilion and practically gifted UCLA a 76-62 win. After the Cougars opened the game with five straight 3-pointers, their offense slowed to unsightly levels - rarely generating good looks and clanking what they did create.
. . . Think he's [WSU Coach Ken Bone]tired of seeing blue and gold? Well, UCLA shot at least 60 percent from the field for the first time since Feb. 18, 2010. Guess who was on the other end of that one.
Although the Bruins started out both halves not playing defense, their offense was on from the start. As this halftime update from Jack Wang details:
After three straight games shooting below 40 percent, the Bruins are humming along against Washington State. A 39-24 halftime lead almost feels too narrow given how terrible the Cougars looked through the first 20 minutes, which saw them go without a field goal for over nine minutes. WSU opened the game with three straight 3-pointers, but ended up shooting just 34.8 percent in the first half.
UCLA has also forced two shot clock violations, scoring 11 points off Washington State's 11 turnovers. The Bruins are shooting 58.6 percent from the field, have assisted on all but three of their 17 baskets, and hold a 20-4 scoring edge in the paint.
Shabazz was the story of the game, this time in a good way.
Player of the game: Muhammad's hot start got the Bruins the cushion they needed and helped key the easy victory. He added two steals and two assists, the first time this season he has had more than one of each in a game. He made seven of 14 shots, including a 3-point basket with about four minutes to go that kept Washington State from fully gaining the momentum.
Stat of the game: UCLA shot a season-high 62 percent (31-for-50) for the game. It was the first time since Feb. 18, 2010 they have shot better than 60 percent in a game. The Cougars shot 40.7 percent (22 of 54) from the field but did not make a 2-point shot until there was 3:41 left in the first half.
What it means: The Bruins took care of business against a team they should have -- something they were unable to do last week against USC. As a result, UCLA remains in a tie with Oregon for second place in the Pac-12 standings. They are a half game behind Arizona, which plays California Sunday at 4 p.m. PT.
What's next: UCLA heads to the Bay Area next week for a two-game trip beginning Thursday at California at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
Shabazz Muhammad dealt with the criticism about as well as anyone could. From even being allowed to play, to his backpack, to his reactions to a game winning shot, it always seems the microscope is focusing on Shabazz:
Muhammad's behavior at the end of UCLA's 2-point win over Washington on Thursday night, whenLarry Drew II hit the game-winning jumper at the buzzer, had people talking. He clapped and stomped his feet while calling for the ball in the closing seconds, in keeping with his oft-stated desire to always take the final shot. After Drew II won the game, the Bruins celebrated on the court while Muhammad walked past them.
He said the critics ''blew it out of proportion. Everybody was on the floor. I didn't want to kill Larry. I really congratulated him after the game,'' Muhammad said, adding that such criticism comes with his status.
''That's one thing you got to take being a top recruited player. You got to know and be smart and keep playing.''
But while Shabazz was again grabbing more than his share of ink in the print stories, the key stat of the game involved the other starting freshmen:
Anderson and Jordan Adams were key to the turnaround. They shot a combined 35-for-105 (33 percent) over the past five games but broke those slumps Saturday. Anderson made six of seven shots and Adams made five of eight. Only Travis Wear, who made five of five shots, had a higher percentage.
"Extra nights of shooting and working on making open shots," Anderson said. "I think it paid off tonight shooting well, and it also rubbed off on the team because everybody shot well, too."
Again I will remind UCLA fans that there is a huge difference between Travis and David Wear in everything but looks. Travis continues to play well in UCLA's victories and even did so last night while sick:
- Ben Howland said forward Travis Wear played with strep throat. The junior made all five of his field-goal attempts for 11 points.
Of course Travis had zero defense rebounds. Putting it positively, Travis had all of UCLA's offense rebounds, 3. But really this is just a huge problem ongoing:
UCLA's rebounding was still lackluster, especially given how few opportunities Washington State had for defensive rebounds. The Cougars held a 31-22 edge on the boards. For the fifth time in six games, the Bruins trailed by at least eight in rebounding margin. WSU grabbed 15 on offense, getting second chances on almost half of their 32 field-goal attempts.
"We started to wear down a little bit," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "I bet they had the ball 23-plus minutes tonight. That's part of the strategy, when you're down, to make (the opponent) play ‘D' for long periods of time. Our block-outs got shaky in the second half.
Added Anderson: "We've just got to work at it. Everyone has to buy in, all five guys. Making contact with the other team, holding the block-out and running to the ball."
So, I am not sure how much to take from this win. But the kids won against the Washington
Generals State Cougars, so let's close with a feel good line:
Muhammad wasted little time putting his unselfishness on display against Washington State when he got an assist to Kyle Anderson on UCLA's first basket of the game.
The team-first attitude quickly rubbed off on the other Bruins, leading to 22 UCLA assists -- its most in a game in seven weeks -- and four players reaching double-figure scoring with Drew (nine points and eight assists) barely missing out.
"There was a lot of unselfishness," said Anderson, who had 12 points and seven assists. "That was the key to us scoring points and getting open shots. We just came out with the mindset of being unselfish and moving the ball around, and it would make it easy for us."
Of course, Cal and a much improved Stanford on the road are coming up. While UCLA played better against WSU, there is still a lot of work to do to beat even two average PAC 12 teams on the road. :
This wasn't the Washington Generals that UCLA faced Saturday night -- just Washington State.
The Cougars were a day at the spa for the Bruins, a chance to work out the kinks. The 76-62 victory over the hapless Cougars at Pauley Pavilion was the sorbet between heavy courses.
Now comes the meaty part of the schedule.
The victory left the Bruins (18-6, 8-3 Pac-12) either tied for second with Oregon or tied for first, depending on whether seventh-ranked Arizona can handle California on Sunday. But the Bruins play five of their last seven regular-season games on the road.