NEW YORK “”mdash; UCLA had just dug itself out of another first-half hole and was looking to build on its slim lead over Georgia, hoping to avoid leaving the East Coast winless.
Then, freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad sliced his way to the rim on a fast break, and before the Bulldogs could turn around, the ball was through the net and Muhammad was at the line to complete a three-point play the old-fashioned way.
Muhammad dominated the second half of UCLA’s 60-56 win in the consolation game of the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Muhammad led all scorers with 21 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
“I was getting open on screens and mismatches down low with smaller guys on me,” Muhammad said.
“I was trying to take advantage of that and it went well for me tonight.”
Fellow freshman Kyle Anderson, who threaded the ball to Muhammad on the three-point play, was the No. 11 Bruins’ third-leading scorer with nine points. The forward also finished with nine rebounds and three assists.
Two of those assists were followed by Muhammad baskets.
“Bringing the ball up, I see his defender struggling with him cutting to the basket,” Anderson said.
“I’m just able to find Shabazz, make eye contact with him and put it in the spot where only he can get it. He’s going to score when he gets it. It’s a pretty good connection between us.”
Just as they did in Monday’s loss to the Georgetown Hoyas to open the Classic, the Bruins (4-1) fell behind by double digits in the first half.
Georgia (1-4) scored easily down low, forcing UCLA coach Ben Howland to make a change.
Uncharacteristically, Howland switched to a 2-3 zone defensive scheme. The zone allowed UCLA to claw its way back into the game.
“We couldn’t stop them in our man. We haven’t worked on it that much. We’re going to work on it some more. This is a team that will be a good zone team in certain situations,” Howland said.
“I want to be primarily a man-to-man team but we have to be able to go to it once in a while especially when we were getting scored on as easily as we were in the first half.”
UCLA returns to Pauley Pavilion on Sunday to face Cal Poly at 7 p.m.