UCLA: Larry Drew II

LOS ANGELES -- Admit it: You didn't think Larry Drew II was going to be this good.

It's OK, not very many people did.

His track record at North Carolina gave very few indications that he'd turn into the single-season assist record holder at UCLA and the player who has hit more game-winning, late-game and late-clock clutch shots than any other Bruin this season.

Drew left North Carolina with the nickname "Turnover Jesus" and with the stigma of a quitter after his departure was portrayed as sneaking off into the night in the middle of the 2011 ACC season.

[+] EnlargeLarry Drew II
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesLarry Drew II has overcome plenty of adversity during his college career, and now, as UCLA's lone senior, he will lead the young Bruins into the NCAA tournament.
He has silenced critics of both his play and his attitude this season, emerging as both a playmaker and floor leader for a young UCLA team, and earning first-team All Pac-12 honors. Those roles figure to become even more prominent this week as the Bruins begin the NCAA tournament Friday against Minnesota in Austin, Texas.

Drew is the team's only senior and the only player on the roster with NCAA tournament experience. As the point guard, he'll be the guy with the ball in his hands most often. And not only that, but he has the experience of winning a national championship ring. Drew played part-time as a freshman on North Carolina's 2009 NCAA championship team.

UCLA has the nation's top-ranked recruiting class this season with top freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson getting much of the attention, but Drew, not long ago cast aside as a has-been, has become the team's most valuable new addition this season.

"I couldn't be happier for a player to play the way he has after all he had to go through," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I think he really got a raw deal in terms of his reputation because he's been nothing short of a model teammate and exceptional leader for us this season."

Drew is averaging 7.6 points, is No. 4 in the nation with 7.4 assists per game and is No. 3 in the nation with an assist-turnover ratio of 3.12. On a team with three freshmen starters, Drew became the experienced leader, and in a season in which it seemed every game came down to the wire, Drew made clutch shot after clutch shot, including a buzzer-beating game winner against Washington Huskies and at least three other late-game shots that sealed victories.

And as the season has gone on, Drew's game has continued to evolve. Early on, he didn't score much, but as teams started to sag off him, he realized he'd have to do more than just distribute the ball. He's averaging 10.1 points and shooting 51.1 percent over the past 12 games. He has made 61.3 percent (19-of-31) of his 3-point attempts during that stretch.

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Bruins disappointed with NCAA placement

March, 17, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Ben Howland watched the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday afternoon and came away with as many questions as answers.

He learned that his UCLA Bruins made the tournament as the No. 6 seed in the South Regional and that they would play the Minnesota Golden Gophers Friday in a second-round game in Austin, Texas, but wondered aloud about why his team was sent packing while PAC-12 rivals California, Oregon and Arizona are staying relatively close to home despite UCLA’s résumé being better than all of theirs.

California is seeded No. 12 in the East and will play in San Jose. Oregon is seeded No. 12 in the Midwest and will also play in San Jose. Arizona is seeded No. 6 in the West and will play in Salt Lake City.

“I’d rather be closer,” Howland said. “I would rather be. Honestly, I’d rather be Cal right now playing in San Jose. I’d rather be a 12-seed playing in San Jose. Especially for the fans. For Cal, that’s a great situation. They’re playing at home. I’m happy for them.”

Howland felt as though his team deserved better after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title, advancing to the conference tournament championship game and defeating Arizona three times this season, but, he said, even though the other conference teams got more favorable geography, he still thought the conference got slighted. UCLA and Arizona received the highest seedings of any conference team.

“Our league’s seedings were really disappointing for me,” he said. “I think our conference has a chance to do something good in the tournament. Collectively, now we pull for everybody in the Pac-12 because obviously we need to gain some respect based on how they seeded our teams.”

UCLA’s stature in the bracket took a significant hit when second-leading scorer Jordan Adams broke his foot Friday night in the conference tournament semifinal. Not only did that hamper UCLA’s ability to win the tournament, but the selection committee almost certainly knocked the Bruins down a spot or two in the seeding knowing that Adams would not be playing in the tournament.

“It may have slid us a line,” Howland said. “I thought we were a 5-seed going in to this. If we had won [the Pac-12 tournament], we may have been a four.”

Just getting to the tournament is somewhat of a relief for Howland, whose job has been under scrutiny all season. The Bruins missed the tournament last season -- the second time in three seasons they failed to make the NCAAs. This was a season of high expectations, and while the Bruins would be the first to admit things didn’t play out exactly as planned, winning the conference and making the NCAA tournament were definitely on the goal list at the beginning of the season.

And for the majority of UCLA’s players, this will be the first taste of the Big Dance. Only senior guard Larry Drew II, a transfer from North Carolina who played a reserve role on the Tar Heels’ 2009 national championship team, has played in the NCAA tournament before.

“I’m really excited and really nervous,” freshman Shabazz Muhammad said. “I haven’t played in a tournament game before, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Still, even Muhammad couldn't help but feel disappointed about the Bruins getting shipped off to Austin.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We really worked hard this year, and to really punish us to not be in the West is pretty sad.”

Sophomore Norman Powell echoed that sentiment, but added a little perspective. Every basketball player grows up dreaming of playing in the NCAA tournament, he said, and now, no matter where they are playing, all but one of UCLA's players will realize that dream for the first time.

“We really wanted to be seeded in the West because it would be closer for our fans and our families to get out and see us play,” Powell said. “But we’re just happy that we got in the tournament, and we’re ready to go out and play.”

Rapid Reaction: Oregon 78, UCLA 69

March, 16, 2013

The Oregon Ducks won their first Pac-12 tournament championship since 2007 with a 78-69 victory over the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. A quick breakdown:

How it happened: UCLA (25-9) was within two points at 54-52 with 12:07 to play, but following a UCLA timeout the Ducks (25-8) went on an 8-1 run for a 62-53 lead with 10:01 to play. UCLA did not get any closer than four points after that.

Arsalan Kazemi scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, including seven in the final 12:42 as Oregon held off any run UCLA made. The Bruins, who came back from double-digit deficits in each of their previous two games of the tournament, appeared to have one last run when Shabazz Muhammad scored to cut the Oregon lead to 68-62 with 5:08 to play. But Larry Drew missed a shot, Travis Wear failed on a dunk attempt and the Ducks held on.

Oregon had 10 first-half turnovers, but the Bruins could not take advantage, scoring only five points off those turnovers. The Bruins forged an early 14-6 lead, but the Ducks caught fire from behind the arc, as Damyean Dotson, Johnathan Loyd and Carlos Emory combined to make 3-pointers on four consecutive Oregon possessions. That trio of Ducks combined to go 7-of-9 on 3-point attempts over the final 12:25 of the first half as Oregon took a 41-30 halftime lead.

Players of the game: Loyd and Emory combined for 39 points off the bench for Oregon. Emory, who averages 11.2 points, had 20 points and Loyd, who averages 4.1 points, had 19. Loyd made 8 of 14 shots and Emory made 6 of 14.

Stat of the game: The Bruins, who have shot 72.7 percent from the free throw line for the season, made only 13 of 22 (59 percent) in the nine-point loss to Oregon.

What it means: The defeat, coupled with the loss of Jordan Adams to a broken foot, means UCLA will probably not get to play as close to home in the NCAA tournament as the Bruins had hoped. They will likely be seeded No. 5 or No. 6. Oregon got a nice résumé-boosting win, but probably can’t hope for much more than a No. 7 or No. 8 seeding.

What’s next: The teams will return home to await their NCAA tournament fate. The selections will be revealed Sunday at 3 p.m. PT.

UCLA beats Arizona -- but loses Adams

March, 16, 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Tears trickled down Larry Drew II's cheeks as he walked through the long corridor leading to UCLA’s locker room Friday. Eventually the Bruins point guard pulled his jersey over his face, shouted a profanity and began to sob.

Trailing a few steps behind, guard Kyle Anderson clasped his hands on top of his head and dropped his jaw. “Oh my god!” he said. “Oh my god!”

Less than a half hour earlier, UCLA had advanced to the title game of the Pac-12 tournament with a 66-64 semifinal victory over rival Arizona. But shortly after leaving MGM Grand Garden Arena court pumping their fists in celebration and waving to the crowd, the Bruins were hit with some sobering news.

[+] EnlargeJordan Adams
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsJordan Adams broke his foot on the last play of the game and will miss the rest of the season.
An X-ray revealed that freshman Jordan Adams, the team’s second-leading scorer, had broken a bone in his right foot on the final play of the game. He will miss the remainder of the season.

UCLA coach Ben Howland received the news from Bruins trainer Laef Morris as he exited a postgame news conference that was also attended by Drew II and Anderson. The players overheard the conversation and immediately became emotional.

Drew swore loudly before reaching the locker room, where Howland informed the rest of the team about Adams’ injury.

Adams, who scored a game-high 24 points, was among the players trying to defend a potential game-tying shot by Wildcats forward Solomon Hill as time expired.

A 6-foot-5 freshman guard, Adams didn’t seem seriously injured as the final buzzer sounded. He hobbled through the handshake line and then retreated to the locker room for X-rays. Soon after, it was revealed that Adams had broken the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. Adams, who left the arena on crutches, suffered a similar injury in high school.

“It doesn’t get worse than this,” forward Travis Wear said.

Adams, who averages 15.3 points, proved how much he means to the Bruins on Friday. In what was arguably his finest performance as a collegian, Adams helped his team rally from an 11-point second-half deficit. The victory marked UCLA’s third triumph this season over the Wildcats.

“We didn’t even celebrate the win,” freshman Shabazz Muhammad said. “It’s just doesn’t seem right for someone to get hurt like that this late in the year.”

The main storyline surrounding UCLA this season has been its resiliency. Bruins fans were calling for Howland’s firing after an early loss to Cal Poly and narrow victories over Cal-Irvine and struggling Texas. Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb transferred from the program before the end of the first semester.

But the Bruins just got tougher.

Despite counting three freshmen (Adams, Anderson and Muhammad) among its top players, UCLA improved at a rapid pace and won the Pac-12 regular-season title.

“It’s been hard for us all year, with the transfers and the little nagging injuries and now this,” Drew II said. “It’s tough. But there’s something about this team. We find ways to make things happen when it seems like all is lost.”

UCLA, however, has not suffered a setback as significant as the loss of Adams this season. The freshman has at times this season played better than Anderson and Muhammad, his more highly touted classmates.

Adams scored 13 straight points during UCLA’s second-half rally Friday. The Bruins trailed 49-38 before staging their comeback. Adams was 6-of-13 from the field and 11-of-13 from the foul stripe.

This injury likely means that backup Norman Powell will slide into a starting role. Powell is already a significant part of the rotation, contributing 21.2 minutes and 5.9 points off the bench.

UCLA’s players said they’re confident Powell will step up to the challenge in Saturday’s Pac-12 tournament title game against Oregon -- and again during the NCAA tournament, which begins next week. The Bruins, 25-8, have won eight of their past 10 games.

“I just know we’ve got tough guys out there -- physically and mentally and psychologically,” Anderson said. “Norman Powell is a really tough player. It’s a terrible loss, but it’s not as bad knowing that we’ve got him coming in to fill that spot.

“It’s going to be tough to go without him, but it’s all part of handling adversity, and that’s something we’ve shown we’re pretty good at.”

UCLA establishes new tough identity

March, 14, 2013
LAS VEGAS -- Long before they were champions of the Pac-12, the UCLA Bruins were dogs. Or at least that was one popular description.





Prima donnas.

Ben Howland figures his players heard it all in November and December, when a loss to Cal Poly and ugly wins over UC Irvine and Texas prompted fans and pundits to all but give up on the Bruins and their roster of future NBA draft picks. And their coach.

Three months later, look at UCLA now.

One week away from the NCAA tournament, Howland’s team has a new identity, and it’s a far cry from the one that hovered over UCLA’s program earlier this season. There’s a confidence in the locker room, a swagger on the court, a pride in the huddle. The Bruins have always been skilled.

[+] EnlargeBen Howland
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesBen Howland has led a resurgence in Westwood after a rough start to the season.
But now they’re defined by toughness, too.

Just ask Arizona State, which built a 15-point lead in the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal with UCLA, only to watch the Bruins storm back for an 80-75 victory. The win was the sixth in the past seven games for UCLA, which had five players score in double figures. The Bruins outrebounded Arizona State 36-28.

“We have to play physical to win,” Howland said, “and we did that today.”

So revved up were the Bruins that a few of them (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) even got into a little tussle with Arizona State’s Carrick Felix in the game’s closing seconds. Howland certainly won’t approve of any on-court altercations, but he had to have liked the fire.

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. Still, the job Howland has done with this bunch has been masterful considering how disjointed and lackadaisical UCLA looked in December and January. Long known as a strong defensive coach and game tactician, Howland is clearly a strong motivator, too.

“It’s all about evolving,” Howland said. “Their attitude has been tremendous. It’s always, 'What do we have to do to win, coach?' I haven’t had a better group of guys to coach in my 10 years at UCLA. It’s been absolutely fantastic. They’re coachable, they listen ... it’s been unbelievable. So fun.”

Indeed, there were certainly plenty of smiles following Thursday’s victory, which catapulted the Bruins into Friday’s semifinal against Arizona.

The Bruins grabbed 14 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. Six of the offensive boards came from Muhammad, the future top-five draft pick who scored 16 points playing in front of hometown fans in his native Las Vegas.

“We were all just really composed,” Muhammad said. “That’s what happens when you’re composed and relaxed.”

UCLA doesn’t have a true center or a traditional big man, so rebounding is often a struggle. That’s why Howland was so pleased that his team won the battle of the boards against an Arizona State squad that features 7-foot-1 center Jordan Bachynski and standout four-man Felix, who combine to average 14.3 rebounds.

Most of Howland’s praise, however, was reserved for point guard Larry Drew II. A senior, Drew II was highly criticized when he left North Carolina -- where he was starting -- midway through the 2010-11 season and transferred to UCLA. The easy assumption was that Drew II would underachieve in Westwood just as he did in Chapel Hill.

Instead, Drew II has improved as much as any player in America. He scored 20 points on eight-of-10 shooting Thursday and also dished out four assists. Drew II leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Larry Drew is so good,” Howland said. “He looks like he’s going to be playing at the next level.

“He’s the best passer in the history of UCLA basketball, including all of [John] Wooden’s teams. I’m talking about great players. He’s the best of all of them. That’s an incredible statement. I couldn’t be happier for the kid, as maligned as he was. He’s improved throughout the year and he’s playing his best basketball of the year.”

So, too, are the Bruins, who knew they had this in them all along. Even if no one else did.

Rapid Reaction: UCLA 61, Washington 54

March, 9, 2013
The UCLA Bruins won their first Pac-12 title since 2008 by ending an eight-year losing streak in Seattle with a 61-54 victory over the Washington Huskies on Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena. A quick breakdown:

How it happened: UCLA (23-8, 13-5) trailed 52-48 with 5:59 to play, but ended the game with a 13-2 run and held Washington (17-14, 9-9) to only one field goal the rest of the way.

Shabazz Muhammad tied the score at 52 with a 15-foot jumper with 4:17 to play, then gave the Bruins the lead for good by making a free throw with 2:51 left. Larry Drew II sealed the victory by making a driving layup for a 59-54 lead with 32.6 seconds left, then stole the ball on Washington’s next possession.

Player of the game:
Muhammad had 21 points and six rebounds. He carried the team down the stretch by scoring nine of UCLA's last 18 points. He scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the second half after making just three of his eight shots in the first half.

Stat of the game: Drew set the UCLA single-season record for assists, passing Pooh Richardson, who had 236 in 1989. Drew had six assists in the game and has 239 for the season. The record breaker came on a David Wear dunk with 13:05 left in the game.

What it means: UCLA is the outright Pac-12 conference champion, thanks to the victory and a loss by Oregon at Utah. The Bruins will have the No. 1 seeding in the Pac-12 tournament.

What’s next:
UCLA will head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins have an opening-round bye and will play Thursday at noon in the second round against the winner of the game between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds.

Predicted All-Pac-12 awards

March, 8, 2013
The Pac-12 regular season comes to an end Saturday, so that means the conference's annual awards will be handed out early next week.

Several UCLA Bruins will be in contention for all-conference honors and other awards. Here's one take on what will happen after the conference coaches submit their ballots:

UCLA contenders: Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II , Kyle Anderson, Travis Wear
Predicted selections:
(note: the Pac-12 chooses a 10-player first team and a five-player second team)

First team:
Allen Crabbe (California)
Jahii Carson, (Arizona State)
Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado)
Larry Drew II (UCLA)
Solomon Hill (Arizona)
Arslan Kazemi (Oregon)
Brock Motum (Washington State)
Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA)
Dwight Powell (Stanford)
Andre Roberson (Colorado)

Second team:
Kyle Anderson (UCLA)
Justin Cobbs (California)
Carrick Felix (Arizona State)
Mark Lyons (Arizona)
E.J. Singler (Oregon)

Honorable Mention: Jordan Adams (UCLA), Carlos Emory (Oregon), Josh Huestis (Stanford) Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Chasson Randle (Stanford), J.T. Terrell (USC), Jason Washburn (Utah), Travis Wear (UCLA), C.J. Wilcox (Washington), Royce Woolridge (Washington State).

The skinny: Conference coaches tend to reward the teams that finish high, so expect UCLA and Oregon to get their fair share of selections even if others may be more deserving.

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First look: UCLA at Washington

March, 8, 2013
What: UCLA Bruins (22-8, 12-5) at Washington Huskies (17-13, 9-8)

When: Saturday, 11 a.m. PT

Where: Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle


Radio: AM 570

Scouting the Bruins: UCLA is coming off an embarrassing, yet predictable, loss to last-place Washington State, but can still clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 title with a win at Washington. The Bruins will have to play better on both sides of the ball than they did Wednesday, when they shot only 38.6 percent and allowed Washington State to shoot 49.1. UCLA had shot 47.5 percent and held its opponents to 39.3 percent over the previous four games, so they’ll be looking to get back on track. Forward Travis Wear aggravated a right foot injury Wednesday and his status is still up in the air. Jordan Adams is averaging 17.2 points on 54.9 percent shooting over the last five games. Leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 17.8 points the past five games, but was 4-of-19 Wednesday -- his worst shooting performance of the season. UCLA has been outrebounded in 10 consecutive games and 16 of the past 18. Opponents have outrebounded the Bruins by an average of 9.4 per game over the past 10 games.

Scouting the Huskies: Washington has won three consecutive games and four of its past five, continuing an up-and-down conference season for the Huskies. Their recent run has gotten them back on track, and they are fighting to improve their seeding for the Pac-12 tournament. Senior Scott Suggs is averaging 19 points on 63.6 percent shooting over the past three games. He’s made 11-of-21 (52.3 percent) from 3-point territory during that span. C.J. Wilcox leads the team in scoring with 17.1 points per game, but is shooting only 42.5 percent for the season. He is 15-of-50 (30 percent) over the past four games, including 3-of-18 (16.6 percent) on 3-point attempts. Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-foot center who had 18 rebounds against UCLA on Feb. 7, is fourth in the conference with 9.3 rebounds per game. Washington is No. 11 in the conference in field goal percentage defense (43.2 percent), but held UCLA -- the conference leader in shooting percentage -- to 33.3 percent last time they met.

The series: UCLA leads the all-time series, 93-40, including a 59-57 victory at Pauley Pavilion last month won on a basket at the final buzzer by Larry Drew II.

Fast fact: UCLA has lost eight consecutive games against the Huskies in Seattle, including a 71-69 loss last year. That was the closest the Bruins had been to winning at Washington during the streak, as the other seven losses have come by an average margin of 11.1 points. A 70-63 loss at Washington the final week of the 2011 regular season cost the Bruins a share of the Pac-12 title. UCLA's last win in Seattle came in 2004 during coach Ben Howland's first season with the Bruins.

Rising Bruins positioned for Pac-12 title

March, 5, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Things seems pretty well back to normal around Westwood these days.

The UCLA Bruins have won four consecutive games, are ranked in the top 25 and sit tied with Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings. UCLA can clinch at least a share of the conference title with a sweep of Washington State and Washington this week and set itself up for a top-five seeding in the NCAA tournament should things go well the next two weeks.

It’s a far cry from where the Bruins were around Thanksgiving, when the team was struggling on the court, players seemed to be packing up and leaving on a daily basis, coach Ben Howland’s job was on thin ice and everybody wrote off the Bruins as an overrated bust.

Now, UCLA has fought its way back to the category of NCAA tournament sleeper. The Bruins have won six of their past seven games as they head into Wednesday’s game at last-place Washington State and appear to be peaking at just the right time. It’s not exactly where anyone would have pegged this team to be after an embarrassing loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Nov. 25.

“I honestly probably wouldn’t think it because we were struggling early on,” freshman guard Jordan Adams said. “I kept saying we were going to see how the season turns around or how we deal with that loss. I think it helped us. I still, to this day, think that the Cal Poly loss helped us.”

[+] EnlargeUCLA Bruins
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Bruins are finding success around the recent improvement of Kyle Anderson, center.
Apparently it did. The Bruins reeled off wins in 11 of their next 12 games after that loss -- including a 10-game win streak. They won against Missouri, won against California and are one of only two teams to have won at Colorado this season. They also swept the season series from highly regarded Arizona, and should the Bruins (22-7, 12-4) take care of business against Washington State (11-18, 2-14) and Washington (16-13, 8-8), they will win their first conference title since the Final Four team of 2008.

They've put themselves in this position by rededicating themselves to the fundamentals of team-first basketball instead of the selfish, me-first attitude that polluted the team early on. The players have applied themselves to coach Ben Howland’s defensive philosophies and made great strides on that end of the court while maintaining an offensive potency that has become the calling card of this season’s squad.

“It says a lot about us, and it also says it’s not about the way you start, it’s about the way you finish,” senior point guard Larry Drew II said. “I’m proud of my guys, the way that we stuck through it all season up until this point and just kept battling and fighting as hard as we could. We all know it’s about the name on the front of the jerseys and not the back.”

Kyle Anderson is Exhibit A. Anderson has sacrificed his natural role as point guard in order to play more at forward to help the team with rebounding. He leads the team with nine rebounds a game, and now that he’s had a few months to grow accustomed to the role, he’s beginning to flourish in other areas as well. He’s averaging 16.8 points over the past four games -- well above his season average of 10.3.

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First look: UCLA at Washington State

March, 5, 2013
What: UCLA Bruins (22-7, 12-4) at Washington State Cougars (11-18, 2-14)

When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. PT

Where: Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: AM 570

Scouting the Bruins: UCLA has won four consecutive games and six of its past seven and sits in a tie with Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 Conference standings. The Bruins are coming off of a home sweep of Arizona State and Arizona that all but punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament and kept them in contention for their first conference title since the Final Four team of 2008. Kyle Anderson, the Pac-12 Player of the Week last week, is averaging 16.8 points and 11 rebounds during UCLA’s four-game win streak -- far above his season averages of 10.3 points and nine rebounds. Larry Drew II is averaging 11 points and 8.8 assists during the streak while Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams continue to pour in the points with 18.8 and 17 points, respectively, over the past four games. Muhammad, one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference, has made 7 of 12 from long range during UCLA’s streak and Drew has made 7 of 11. The Bruins lead the conference in scoring with 76 points per game and are shooting a conference-best 46.3 percent, but are last in rebounding margin (-1.0) and have been out-rebounded in nine consecutive games. Forward Travis Wear is still battling a sprained foot and missed practice Monday after playing 17 minutes against Arizona on Saturday. He had missed the previous two games and his status for Wednesday is hopeful, coach Ben Howland said. David Wear, averaging 9.9 points and nine rebounds over the past three games, has filled in nicely for his twin brother.

Scouting the Cougars: Washington State occupies the bottom spot in the Pac-12 standings thanks to a current nine-game losing streak. That’s not to say the Cougars are a pushover. Of their 18 losses, 10 have been by seven points or fewer and five have been by two points or fewer. They took Gonzaga, now ranked No. 1 in the nation, down to the wire in a 71-69 loss in December and went to overtime with first-place Oregon before losing 79-77 on Feb. 16. They are 1-6 at home in conference games, but four of the losses have been by five points or fewer, so the Cougars know how to stay in games and it's only a matter of time before they finish one. Senior guard Mike Ladd, the team’s second-leading scorer with 11.4 points per game and third on the team with 5.9 rebounds per game, has missed the past five games with a knee injury and is questionable to play. Leading scorer Brock Motum continues to shine even in a down year and is third in the conference with 17.9 points per game while leading the team with 6.2 rebounds per game. Royce Woolridge had 36 points against Oregon and is averaging 19 over the past four games for the Cougars, who are 11th in the conference in scoring at 63.8 points per game and 11th in field goal percentage at 42.5 percent. The Cougars will slow the game with multiple defensive looks and are giving up only 63.4 points a game to rank No. 4 in the conference in scoring defense.

The series: UCLA leads the all-time series 102-14. The Bruins defeated Washington State 76-62 on Feb. 9 for their eighth consecutive victory over the Cougars. UCLA is 46-11 all-time against the Cougars in Pullman and has a current 19-game win streak at Washington State that began in 1994. Of those 19 UCLA victories, however, 10 have come by five points or fewer.

Quick quote: “Those of us that have been there know how many close calls we’ve had in Pullman here in recent memory,” Howland said of playing at Pullman. “I know and have tried to really impress upon our players that if we don’t show up and play our best, we are definitely putting ourselves in an opportunity to lose on Wednesday.”

Rapid Reaction: UCLA 74, Arizona 69

March, 2, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA Bruins completed a season sweep of the Arizona Wildcats -- the first for either team in the series since UCLA won both in 2008 -- with a 74-69 victory Saturday at a sold-out Pauley Pavilion. A quick look:

How it happened: Grant Jerrett made consecutive 3-point baskets that got the Wildcats (23-6, 11-6 Pac-12) to within three points at 72-69 with 1:07 to play. But Shabazz Muhammad grabbed a strong rebound with nine seconds to play, then made two free throws to seal the victory for UCLA (22-7, 12-4).

In a game of runs, UCLA had the game's longest, scoring 12 consecutive points in the second half to take a 52-38 lead. They were up 55-41 with 14:26 to play. The Wildcats then responded. They cut the lead to 59-54 before Muhammad stopped the bleeding for UCLA with a 3-pointer that gave the Bruins a 62-54 lead with 8:50 to play. The Wildcats did not get closer than six points until Jerrett's 3-pointer with 1:34 to go.

UCLA had several opportunities to take control of the game in the first half, but the Wildcats kept coming back. UCLA led 13-6, then Arizona tied it at 13-13. The game also was knotted at 29 and 34, but the Wildcats could never take the lead. The Bruins got a layup at the halftime buzzer from Larry Drew II to put UCLA up 40-36.

Muhammad finished with a game-high 18 points, Kyle Anderson had 17 points and seven rebounds and Drew II had 14 points and nine assists. Jerrett led the Wildcats with 14 points and made four of five 3-point attempts.

Player of the game: Muhammad, playing on a sprained ankle, scored UCLA's final five points and eight of their last 15. His clutch one-handed rebound with nine seconds left was something to behold.

What it means: UCLA remains in control of its own destiny in the race for the Pac-12 regular-season title. The Bruins are tied with Oregon for first place and would claim at least a share of the title with wins at Washington State and Washington next week. Saturday’s victory likely locks up an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament for the Bruins, who missed the tournament last season.

Despite the defeat, Arizona seems to be pretty safe as far as the NCAA tournament goes, but the Wildcats have been officially eliminated from the Pac-12 regular-season race and can’t be feeling good with a 3-4 record over the past seven games.

What’s next: UCLA heads to the Northwest to finish the regular season with visits to the Cougars and Huskies. The Bruins play Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Pullman. Arizona is off until next Saturday at 2:30, when the Wildcats play the in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils to finish the regular season.

Bruins kick off March with Arizona showdown

March, 1, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- It's March, so let the madness begin.

UCLA's vaunted freshmen will get their first taste of meaningful March basketball when the Bruins (21-7, 11-4 Pac-12) face No. 11 Arizona (23-5, 11-5) on Saturday at 6 p.m. PT at Pauley Pavilion in a game with Pac-12 title and NCAA tournament seeding implications.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsFreshmen Jordan Adams, left, and Shabazz Muhammad will get their first taste of March college basketball when UCLA faces Arizona on Saturday.
There will be no shortage of hype, either, as ESPN's "College GameDay" crew will be on hand for the game, raising the electricity to another level in a rivalry game between the Pac-12's two most storied teams and preseason conference title favorites.

UCLA is half a game behind Oregon (23-6, 12-4) for first place in the conference and can claim at least a share of the regular-season title by winning its last three games. Arizona sits a game behind the Ducks, and will need to win out and hope Oregon stumbles during a road trip next week to Colorado and Utah.

UCLA is projected as a No. 7 seed in Joe Lunardi's most recent Bracketology and Arizona is a No. 4 seed, so both teams have room to go up or down. This nationally televised game between traditional powerhouses will go a long way in determining which way they go, so there is no doubt March is coming in like a lion.

"Every game is do or die for us from here on out," UCLA guard Larry Drew II said. "We're approaching every game like it is a must-win, and that starts with this game against Arizona."

Drew is one of the few UCLA players with experience in important games in March. The senior North Carolina transfer was a freshman on the Tar Heels' 2009 national championship team. Travis Wear and David Wear were freshmen at North Carolina when the Tar Heels played in the NIT. Sophomore Norman Powell did not play in the postseason last year, and freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker are about to embark on the first March of their college careers.

"It's special, there's no question," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "This is why kids come to UCLA, to have 'College GameDay' on campus against Arizona. It doesn't get any better than that."

Especially if the Bruins can repeat the performance they put on in an 84-73 victory over the Wildcats on Jan. 24 in Tucson. In that game, Muhammad had 23 points, Adams had 15 points and five rebounds, Anderson had 12 rebounds, and Parker had six points and three rebounds in 10 minutes.

(Read full post)

UCLA freshmen live up to billing in win over ASU

February, 28, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA's freshmen class came to Westwood surrounded by a cloud of heavy hype and high expectations. Wednesday night, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker showed everybody why.

[+] EnlargeKyle Anderson
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Kyle Anderson, right, had a career-high 21 points in an ovetime win over ASU. Fellow classmate Jordan Adams, left, led the Bruins with 22 points Wednesday.
Those four made big play after big play, did many of the little things that won't show up in a box score -- and plenty that will -- as the Bruins defeated Arizona State, 79-74, in overtime at Pauley Pavilion. The foursome combined for 66 points and 29 rebounds, showing why the group was tabbed as the nation's No. 1 recruiting class coming in to this season.

It was the best collective effort of the season for the freshman class, which has gone through some growing pains this season but appears to be maturing just as the season starts to get serious.

"They all played great," coach Ben Howland said. "There's no question. Those three kids are not playing like freshmen in November. You can see they've improved a lot in a lot of different respects. So that's exciting to see guys improve."

This performance came at an opportune time for the Bruins. They were playing with starting forward Travis Wear -- the team's third-leading scorer -- out because of a foot sprain. And they were up against a team in Arizona State that is on the NCAA tournament bubble and gave the Bruins every ounce of sweat and grit they could handle.

UCLA's young guns stepped up to the task, taking every desperate punch the Sun Devils threw and answered back. Adams led the team with 22 points and had a big 3-point basket at the end of regulation that gave UCLA a 70-68 lead.

Muhammad had a huge first half with 15 points of his 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting before the break to keep the Bruins in the game when Arizona State was shooting lights-out early on. Anderson had a career-high 21 points to go along with 15 rebounds.

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First look: Arizona State at UCLA

February, 26, 2013
What: Arizona State Sun Devils (20-8, 9-6) at UCLA Bruins (20-7, 10-4)

When: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. PT

Where: Pauley Pavilion

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: AM 570

Scouting the Bruins: UCLA has won four of its last five games and is looking to keep pace with Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12 conference title race. The Bruins are a half game behind the Ducks and Wildcats, with a game against the Wildcats coming up on Saturday. UCLA has won back-to-back games and is looking for its first three-game win streak since Jan. 10, 12 and 17. The Bruins are coming off of a dominant 75-59 victory over USC on Sunday, which marked UCLA's largest margin of victory in a conference game this season. They may have to play without third-leading scorer Travis Wear, who is doubtful because of a sprained foot. Shabazz Muhammad (17.6), Jordan Adams (14.6), Larry Drew II (11.0) and Kyle Anderson (10.6) are all averaging in double figures over the last five games and the Bruins, who lead the conference in scoring and field goal percentage, are averaging 75.5 points and shooting 49.7 percent over the last four games. Drew has been especially efficient, shooting 57.6 percent over the last five games, including 69.2 percent (9-of-13) on 3-pointers. Adams is shooting 50.9 percent over the last five games. The Bruins have held their last two opponents under 40 percent shooting, the first time since Jan. 5 and 10 that they have done that.

Scouting the Sun Devils: Arizona State is on the dreaded NCAA tournament bubble as the Sun Devils continue to mix impressive victories with head-scratching losses. They have won two of their last three games, including an overtime victory at Colorado, but lost to Utah and Stanford before that. They are also the last team to have defeated California, the hottest team in the Pac-12 right now, but are coming off a loss to struggling Washington. Point guard Jahii Carson leads the Sun Devils and is fourth in the conference with 17.5 points per game, but it was Arizona State's big men that dominated in a 78-60 victory over UCLA on Jan. 26. Center Jordan Bachynski and forward Carrick Felix combined for 45 points, 26 rebounds and eight blocked shots in that game as the Sun Devils outrebounded UCLA, 53-33. Bachynski, who had a career-high 22 in that game, has scored only 53 points in the eight games since, though he is fourth in the nation in blocked shots with four per game. Felix is averaging 14.3 points and eight rebounds, who are 3-3 on the road in conference games this season and have split all three of their conference road trips.

The series: UCLA leads the all-time series, 61-18, though Arizona State won in a rout, 78-60, when the teams met Jan. 26 in Tempe, ending a five-game UCLA win streak in the series. Arizona State has swept the season series from the Bruins only three times, the last coming in 2009.

Quick quote: "I looked at the Bracketology and they know that [Joe] Lunardi has them as the last team out," coach Ben Howland said of Arizona State. "What's going to help them get in? Beat us tomorrow. We understand that. That's the kind of mindset and emphasis they're going to have on this game and we have to be up to that challenge."

Larry Drew II stepping up on and off the court

February, 24, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- The emotions ran high Sunday at the Galen Center, but the UCLA Bruins had a calming presence.

UCLA and USC were each assessed technical fouls after a mild second-half dust up during the Bruins’ 75-59 victory over the Trojans, and referees called an intentional foul after a hard foul on UCLA leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad, but Larry Drew II wouldn't let his team get out of control.

[+] EnlargeLarry Drew
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsLarry Drew II is the only senior on UCLA's roster this season, and his leadership has been paying off down the stretch.
Play was physical and chippy throughout the game with bodies regularly crashing to the floor, but Drew knew better than to get caught up in an emotional outburst. The senior point guard -- the only senior on the UCLA team this season -- preached calm and maturity to his band of freshmen phenoms, and cooler heads prevailed as the Bruins ended the tense rivalry game without incident.

“We were up 20 or 17 or whatever and I’m like we don’t need to fight back or talk back or argue back,” Drew said. “Just go out there and play the game and win. Talk after.”

Going into the game, Bruins fans might have worried that Drew would be the first one to get out of control. After UCLA’s last meeting with USC, one that ended in a 75-71 Trojans’ victory, Drew did plenty of talking after.

Asked how he would approach the game the next time UCLA faced its crosstown rival, he said he would “go out there and kill them, for real.” It was a surprisingly candid response, and, though a poor choice of words, showed exactly how Drew felt about losing to USC.

He said he thought about those comments as he took the floor Sunday, but remembered that keeping everyone level-headed would be the best path to success. When the game threatened to get out of control, Drew took charge.

“When I said it, I didn’t think too much about it, but it’s true," Drew said Sunday. “I wanted to come out here and beat these guys as bad as ever. But this year, this game, I had to be the fifth-year senior that the team can rely on.”

Drew took charge right away. He made a 3-pointer for the first points of the game, made a nice pass to David Wear for a dunk and a 9-2 UCLA lead, then drained another 3-pointer to put the Bruins up 12-4 less than four minutes into the game.

He had eight points and five assists in the first half as the Bruins blew open a 47-26 lead and set the tone, making it clear they would not fall to the Trojans on this day. But even though his statistics weren’t as productive in the second half -- he finished with 11 points and six assists -- his contributions were no less important.

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