Shabazz Muhammad’s basketball career at UCLAdidn’t start quite as planned. The top-ranked recruit dealt with an NCAA suspension, injuries to his ankle and shoulder and a considerable weight gain, all during his first few weeks on campus.
But on Saturday night, the freshman guard took a big step toward fulfilling the lofty expectations put upon him, with a 95-53 win over visiting Prairie View A&M.
Muhammad scored 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting, in addition to four assists and two rebounds.
“I thought I was able to free up the court a lot tonight,” Muhammad said. “The extra weight I had was making me more tired and today I felt like I could run all night.”
While Muhammad stole the spotlight, it was UCLA’s defense that won the game as it held Prairie View to 34.4 percent shooting while forcing 18 turnovers.
“Our man defense worked really well today,” said freshman forward Kyle Anderson, who had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. “Everybody was there for their teammates when somebody got beat off the ball. Staying in front of our man was a big emphasis and I think we got it done today.”
The game started slowly, with both teams struggling to score, but the Bruins broke a 7-7 tie by going on a 39-16 run to close out the first half.
UCLA never looked back, extending its lead to 44 at one point in the second half by shooting almost 56 percent from the field.
“When we were down against Texas, we learned that we have to play with momentum and passion throughout the whole season,” said sophomore guard Norman Powell, who scored nine points off the bench.
“This game coming in was good for us because we know how good we can be.”
A big part of UCLA’s performance had to do with an entire week to work on conditioning and shooting. Coach Ben Howland held practice on Tuesday, twice on Wednesday, once on Thursday and two times again on Friday.
“We’re getting in better condition,” Howland said. “Not just Shabazz, but everybody.”
Along with their physical improvement, the younger Bruins are starting to gain some much-needed experience at the college level.
“We had a lot of confidence out there,” Anderson said. “Guys trusted one another and we shared the ball really well, so that confidence is going to lead over to practice today and the next game.”
The confidence is especially strong among the four scholarship freshmen on the roster in Muhammad, Anderson, guard Jordan Adams and center Tony Parker, who combined for 59 of UCLA’s 95 points.
“It was a great all-around performance by the freshmen,” Muhammad said.
“We’re just starting to get it more and get in the flow of this college basketball game. We’re just doing a good job of buckling down and getting into this system.”