Saturday, June 23

Court Visions: Drew pulls UCLA to victory


1 Tim Bradbury / Daily Bruin

Ben Howland and Larry Drew II are two different profiles in trust.

Howland rarely relies on the coaches he hired for in-game strategy or the players he recruited for bench minutes.

Drew, on the other hand, has faith in every single one of his teammates, almost to a fault. He opts to use his quickness to create opportunities for the other Bruins more often than he does for himself.

But Howland trusts Drew and Drew trusts himself to make the right play.

Combine those and you get what happened on Thursday night, when Drew was buried under a dog pile by his teammates after his game-winning jumper.

He emerged with a welt on his forehead as chants of “Lar-ry!” rang throughout Pauley Pavilion. The shot ended UCLA’s 59-57 win over Washington, a much-needed bandage for a UCLA team that still looks like it has regressed over the past few weeks.

Even with all the talent on this UCLA men’s basketball team, only Drew should have the ball in his hands at the end of close games.

Both Howland and Drew realized this during crunch time.

After Washington tied the game with 10 seconds left to play, UCLA looked a little disheveled. Howland, who can be counted on to tackle a referee if it helps him call a timeout, didn’t use his last stoppage.

Drew didn’t even look to the bench for the timeout. He took the inbound pass, waving his hands to calm the team down.

There wasn’t time to run a set play so Drew, known around the team as someone who is always ready to drop a freestyle rap, did something that he’s good at: he improvised.

He took a screen, forcing Huskies 7-footer Aziz N’Diayek to switch on defense. Drew probed the paint, shuffled away from the long arms of N’Diaye and put up the game-winner as the buzzer sounded.

The shot came at the end of what was arguably the ugliest game that UCLA has played all year long. The Bruins were hammered in the rebounding department, once again, and also managed to drop to their season-low in shooting percentage.

They won on Thursday night, but the Bruins are still slumping. And if you read the words in this space on Tuesday, you already know who I trust to lead this team back.

It’s Drew.

Not Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 22 points Thursday – but had to take 23 shots to do it – or anyone else on the Bruins roster.

Muhammad wasn’t the only inefficient one: UCLA shot 33 percent from the field and scored the second-fewest amount of points it had all season.

Just google “Turnover Jesus” and you will be hit with plenty of results telling you why Larry Drew cannot be counted upon.

He has completely shed that label at UCLA. His layups at the end of games against UC Irvine and Utah were crucial to those two wins.

That Drew did it with a jumper on Thursday was even more unlikely. He doesn’t often look to rise for his shot but knew he had to this time.

“I’m a pass-first point guard,” Drew said.

“Old school, if you want to call it that. But at the end of the day, I have to do whatever it takes for my team to get the dub.”

And when exactly did Drew realize the last shot had to be his?

“Probably when I got the ball,” he said, cracking a smile.

It’s a good thing he didn’t look up and see Muhammad frantically trying to get his attention.

Even better for UCLA was that Howland didn’t interfere by stopping the game, knowing that Drew wanted to make the play.

“Sometimes I like to let it go,” Howland said.

“That play was all on his own.”

In Larry, he trusts.

E-mail Menezes at [email protected] or tweet him at @ryanvmenezes.

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