Doing news roundups after each game is usually the easy thing to do here at Bruins Nation but come tournament time the so-called "experts" or columnists come out and have to have their unique takes and/or act like they know what is really going on. Although I often detest him, I have to agree with Bill Plaschke this time, of course he was not really talking about sports so he is writing in an area he is more comfortable with:
A UCLA basketball team that has sleepwalked through parts of the season has taken the metaphor to an entirely new level.
On Thursday, the Bruins won a basketball game in their pajamas.
In their 80-75 comeback victory over Arizona State in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins were resourceful, resilient, and just so darn cute.
Thanks to new uniforms provided by Adidas - the athletic department's owner, er, sponsor - the Bruins looked like Care Bears. They wore fluffy white shorts adorned with little gray squigglies. Their UCLA jerseys contained shirt sleeves covered in the same finger-painted mess.
Yes the uniforms were that bad. I can't really argue with him on it. But then comes the next columnist, this case national ESPN moron, Jason King. King makes the mistake of all Howlers and too many national columnists who come in for one game and miss the other under-achieving games. Heck King just wants to promote UCLA because, and since I am on the east coast I know, basketball west of Kansas is UCLA and the flavor of the month, now Gonzaga. It does not matter how UCLA actually does, the EasternSPN will promote it instead of actually reporting on it. King wrote:
Howland, who led UCLA to three Final Fours in his first nine seasons in Westwood, said he isn't surprised by his team's new found toughness.
"I never worried about it," Howland said. "Everybody's got it that's in our program. It was our job to bring it out of them."
It seems almost amusing now that Howland had been rumored to be on the hot seat during a season in which his team won the outright Pac-12 title. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero can't fire Howland now.
Heck, he ought to give him an extension.
This is far from Howland's best Bruins team. It may not even rank among his top five.
So in conclusion King thinks that UCLA fans should be happy just getting to the tournament because that is Howland sixth best finish, in 2004-5 when UCLA lost in the first round. (As he says this team may not rank in the top 5.) Typical Howler bring up the final fours, forget the last four years and only look at this season to lower the expectations. If you are reading this and agree with King that UCLA should be happy with just getting to the tournament, please go elsewhere. And King, leave the reporting on UCLA to someone who actually watches the game.
Which brings me to ESPN's Peter Yoon. Yoon is often too positive and definitely a homer. But I think UCLA fans can really support the players, who did make a scrappy comeback yesterday to beat ASU 80-75.
Player of the game: Muhammad scored 12 of his 16 points in a seven-minute stretch during which UCLA erased a 60-48 Arizona State lead and took a 69-68 lead. He also led the team with nine rebounds -- six on the offensive glass.
Player of the game, part II: Drew had a career-high 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-4 on 3-pointers. He also had four assists and played in foul trouble almost the entire game.
Player of the game, part III: Travis Wear's clutch shots down the stretch sealed the game and showed how much he was missed when he sat out UCLA's previous two meetings against Arizona State. The Bruins split those games, needing overtime to win at home and getting blown out in Tempe.
What it means: UCLA keeps alive its hopes of doubling up with the regular-season and conference tournament titles, but more importantly can still improve its NCAA tournament seeding. The Bruins are currently projected in the 5-7 range, but can move up to a No. 4 or No. 3 and get placed somewhere west of the Rocky Mountains with continued success in the conference tournament. Arizona State, a fringe bubble team to begin with, is now almost assured of going to the NIT.
It is hard to see a team with a soft four as a Center going far in the tournament. However, that is not Travis' fault. The kid hit the clutch shots and deserves credit for his play late in the game. But he was really the third star. The only player who had a great game was Larry Drew II. Larry had memories of the first ASU game when ASU dared him to shoot. But not only did Larry remember, he took vengeance.
Arizona State's guards were sagging off of him at the top of the key, almost daring him to take 3-pointers on every possession.
"If that's how you want to play," Drew said on Tuesday, recalling that now-distant loss, "I'm going to have to make you pay for it."
And on Thursday, in UCLA's second-round Pac-12 Tournament matchup against the Sun Devils, Drew made sure to make them pay this time, raining down shot after shot in an 80-75, comeback victory to advance to the semifinals against Arizona.
It wouldn't even matter that Drew would spend the majority of the second half in foul trouble, tasked with guarding freshman standout Jahii Carson. Even as Carson finished with 21 points, it was Drew's stat line that was especially jaw-dropping. He knocked down 8 of his 10 shots from the field and all four of his shots from long range to finish with a career-high 20 points.
The star of the second half was Shabazz. Shabazz effort and resilience were off the charts.
The game especially seemed to change as Muhammad kicked his offense into high gear in his much-anticipated hometown return. He scored just four points in the first half with Arizona State's defense luring him into taking bad, contested shots. But when his team needed him most, Muhammad burst into the game with eight of UCLA's 10 points on a key 12-2 run that put the Bruins back in the game. He finished with 16 points on 8 of 16 shooting.
I say resilience because Shabazz was embarrassed earlier in the half but came back with the play of the game:
It 9:12 in the second half, Shabazz Muhammad streaked down the court and flushed in a one-handed jam over 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski. The slam helped re-energize a UCLA team that looked lost on offense in the first half, sparking a 28-13 run through to end of the game.
"In high school, I think I've done it," Muhammad said. "Just knowing I got the break and I knew he was going to jump. So I just tried to get a good position on him and went up and got the dunk on him."
The stellar play helped make up for an embarrassing one earlier, when Muhammad tried to go up down low against the ASU center. Bachynski easily stuffed him twice in about the same number of seconds, also securing the conference record with 116 blocks on the season. The old record (115) was set Arizona State's Mario Bennett in 1995.
Of course the players hit the boards hard as well, the best since Fresno State and the first time UCLA won the battle of the boards in a long time.
UCLA won a rebounding battle for the first time since beating Arizona in January, ending a streak of 11 straight losing games on the boards. The Bruins were up 39-31 on the glass, a result made more impressive by the roster's diverse contributions. Leading rebounder Kyle Anderson only had five boards, but every starter grabbed at least four. Muhammad led with nine rebounds, six on the offensive end.
. . . "I think it's just the effort," Anderson said. "Five guys to the glass."
But perspective is everything. UCLA was the worst rebounding team in the conference, ASU the second worse. Yes it was a good win over a tough matchup but as someone who actually watches the Bruins game-in, game-out, Jack Wang, wrote it is not because ASU is a great team but because UCLA makes certain players look good, especially ASU's center:
UCLA's regular-season championship and No. 1 seed did it little good as it drew its toughest possible matchup to open the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins had been gashed by a 12-0 ASU run early in the second half, doing little to stop either Bachynski or Carson, who combined for 25 of the Sun Devils' 41 first-half points.
Bachynski - who looks like an NBA first-round pick against the Bruins and D-League material against everyone else - finished with a game-high 22 points and six rebounds. He also became the Pac-12's new leader in single-season blocks, reaching 116 with two back-to-back stuffs of Muhammad.
While King waxes poetically about the greatness of Howland, Wang puts in perspective the Howland coached Bruins ability to make any 7'2" guy look like a lottery pick. I really like the players on this team and at times they are fun to watch but unless they make a deep tournament run, this season does not make up for the last four seasons.
Which brings us to our last point. Could UCLA get a protected seed out west for the big dance? It seems like they may have an outside shot at a 3 seed and decent chance at a 4 seed if they win the PAC 12 tournament. Playing Arizona is a big game for seeding because of Arizona's higher ranking and high RPI. UCLA beat Arizona twice this year and will play the third game tonight at 6 pm on the PAC 12 network. A few notes are below:
No. 4-seeded Arizona stumbled a bit down the stretch with losses in two of its final three regular-season games that knocked the Wildcats out of the conference title race and into the No. 4 seed for the tournament, but they are looking to reach the conference tournament final for the third consecutive year. After defeating Colorado 79-69 Thursday in the quarterfinals, the Wildcats have won consecutive games in fairly convincing fashion. The key number for them is 70 points on the defensive end, as they are 23-0 when holding teams under that threshold. They are very balanced on offense and are second to UCLA among conference teams in scoring at 73.6 points per game. Mark Lyons is the leader with 14.8 points per game, but Solomon Hill (13.5) and Nick Johnson(11.8) are not far behind, and all are very capable of scoring 20-plus points. The Wildcats like to score from all over the floor and lead the conference in 3-pointers made with 238. Lyons has 56 while Hill, Johnson and Kevin Parrom each have at least 35. Kaleb Tarczewski, a 7-foot freshman center, presents a matchup issue for the size-challenged Bruins and leads the team with 5.9 rebounds per game. Hill, Parrom and Brandon Ashley also average more than five rebounds for the Wildcats, who are among the conference leaders with a plus-6.1 rebounding margin.
The series: UCLA leads the series 51-37. The Bruins swept the regular season with an 84-73 victory in Tucson and a 74-69 victory at Pauley Pavilion and will be trying to go 3-0 against the Wildcats for only the second time in school history. The only other time the Bruins did so was in 2006.