Return of unselfish play keys UCLA win

February, 9, 2013
2/09/13
11:14
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Share and share alike became the UCLA Bruins' team motto during a 76-62 victory over Washington State on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion.

All it took star was player Shabazz Muhammad getting called out nationally for being selfish because of his reaction, or lack thereof, after Larry Drew II's buzzer-beater Thursday in a victory over Washington.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Muhammad
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsShabazz Muhammad set the tone for UCLA's unselfish play Saturday by getting an assist on the Bruins' first basket.
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."

The result for UCLA was a season-high 62 percent shooting from the field. It was the first time since Feb. 18, 2010 that the Bruins had shot higher than 60 percent in a game. It also broke the Bruins out of a shooting slump in which they had failed to shoot better than 38.2 percent over the previous three games.

It was all because of the willingness of the team to spread the ball around, coach Ben Howland said.

"Part of it is we got some good looks and open shots by really being unselfish and making the extra pass," Howland said. "When we play like that, then we're a very good offensive team."

It's a team that has been MIA of late. The Bruins had only nine assists and shot 33.3 percent Thursday against Washington -- a wake-up call of sorts that reminded them just how much their offense relies on sharing the ball.

Muhammad became the face of UCLA's recent selfish play when he failed to join the team in celebration after Drew's game-winning shot Thursday night. "SportsCenter" pointed out Muhammad walking past the celebratory dog pile without even glancing at it, and that became a topic of conversation on sports radio and television sports talk shows throughout Friday.

Muhammad said the media and public reaction was a little overblown.

"They blew it out of proportion," he said. "It was nothing. Everybody was on the floor. I didn't want to kill Larry. I really congratulated him after the game."

He took it in stride, though, as he did a couple of weeks ago when his Gucci backpack became a national sensation for a day. He said that type of scrutiny comes with the territory of being one of the nation's top high school recruits and part of a Bruin recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

"That's one thing you have to take being a top-recruited player," Muhammad said. "All of us if we're doing something wrong it's going to be blown out of proportion, so you just have to know and be smart and keep playing."

On Saturday, Muhammad made it clear early that he could, indeed, be a team player. He missed a 3-point shot on UCLA's second offensive possession, grabbed his own long rebound and drove to the basket as if he were going to put up the floater that he shoots so often. Instead, he found Anderson cutting to the rim and fed him a perfect pass for the assist.

It was a rarity for Muhammad, who had only 17 assists in 20 games before Saturday. He later added another assist, marking just the fourth time this season he tallied more than one assist in a game.

"Just trying to get everybody involved," Muhammad said. "When we're playing so unselfish like you see today we had a lot of assists and our percentage was really high on the offensive end. Four guys in double digits -- we played well as a team and played really unselfish."

The efficient UCLA offense on display Saturday was the one that carried UCLA through a 10-game win streak in December and January. That streak began with an ugly win over Texas, but what followed were four consecutive games in which the Bruins had 21 assists or more.

It's the kind of offense that can compensate for a defense that is vastly improved but still has limitations, and the kind of offense that could win a few important games down the stretch.

"I think we're really starting to get our confidence back," Muhammad said. "Like I said last game, we needed a really solid quality win, and I think this was one tonight. We played really unselfish and guys were having a lot of fun out there. Me and Kyle we were really having a lot of fun. That's what it's all about and we're going to build off the win."

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."

Howland seemed genuinely excited about the way the team played Saturday. Of course, he raved about the defense -- and who wouldn't after his team held Washington State scoreless for a nine-minute stretch in the first half and did not give up a two-point basket for the first 16:39 of the game -- but the patience, balance and unselfishness on offense really got him smiling.

"I was really proud that our team has grown in terms of being really smart offensively," Howland said. "I think it's always good for your team when you have four, five six guys in double figures. It's always fun. I just thought we were really unselfish. We did a great job of sharing the ball tonight."

And he made sure to point out one last stat to prove his point.

"Shabazz had two assists," Howland said. "In the first half."

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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