- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
- 0 Shares
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.
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.
Parker had only two points and a rebound, but the UCLA big man played a valuable 10 minutes in which he frustrated the Sun Devils' Jordan Bachynski with very physical play. Parker took the 7-foot-2 post player out of his game and Bachynski finished with 10 points and seven rebounds after torching UCLA for 22 and 15 last month in Tempe.
"We're so comfortable now and we don't look like freshmen," Muhammad said. "I think we're taking the initiative out there and the Pac-12 tournament is right around the corner. We're in first place and we're trying to stay in first place so we're doing whatever we can do to finish strong."
Arizona State led, 52-48 with 13:40 left to play, but the freshmen took over from there. They scored 25 of UCLA's final 31 points, including all nine Bruins points in overtime. Muhammad had seven rebounds and Adams had six for the second consecutive game. They all grabbed critical boards down the stretch.
And with senior Larry Drew II having an uncharacteristically sloppy game at point guard with a season-high seven turnovers, the freshmen had only four between them.
"They picked up my slack tonight because I wasn't taking care of the ball that well," Drew said. "Guys like Shabazz and Jordan and Kyle made good plays down the stretch."
This is not a game UCLA likely could have won early in the season. Then, with the Bruins freshmen looking like newborn fawn clumsily walking, the play was uneven and disjointed. Now, with nearly four months of games under their belts, they showed they can carry the team if need be.
"It's been a long year for us," Drew said. "Everybody's been learning. Everybody is gaining experience along the way. The coaching staff, too. Everybody is getting a feel for each other's game more and more and that's what we're going to need if we're going to get where we want to go."
Early on, it didn't look as if the Bruins were going anywhere. They looked slow and confused, struggled against lower-tier teams and lost to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The court of public opinion passed the judgement that UCLA and its freshmen class was far overrated.
While fans expected the Bruins to come out like gangbusters and dominate the way Kentucky did with heralded freshmen last season, Howland preached patience. The youngsters needed time to develop, he said.
Wednesday night that patience paid off.
"I think the media got it right," Howland said. "They are the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and they played like it today."
3dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller