A turbulent three-week stretch for the UCLA men’s basketball team that included three losses in four games found softer treading on Saturday night when the Bruins played the Washington State Cougars.
UCLA (18-6, 8-3 Pac-12), coming off a Thursday win over Washington, beat Washington State (11-13, 2-9) 76-62. The win came with relative ease behind a strong performance by freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad, who led the Bruins in scoring with 17.
“He’s been very consistent scoring all year,” said coach Ben Howland. “It was also good to see him grab four defensive boards today.”
At the start of the game, the Cougars jumped out to a 9-7 lead after hitting three three-point baskets. The Bruins, though, responded with a 30-17 run to close out the first half.
“I was really getting worried,” said Howland of the Cougar’s hot start. “Then we started to dig in and get some stops. We did a great job stopping their scorers later in the night.”
A major part of that run came from several strong defensive possessions that included two shot clock violations.
“I was really pleased with our defense in the first half,” Howland said. “Our guys are getting better defensively, we’re getting better as a team.”
Along with a solid defensive performance, the Bruins were able to share the ball effectively, as they assisted 22 of their 31 baskets.
“There was a lot of ball movement out there and a lot of unselfishness,” said freshman forward Kyle Anderson, who finished with 12 points and seven assists. “I think that was a key to us scoring and getting open shots.”
UCLA held a 20-point lead at one point, but Washington State was able to cut the lead to 13 with 4:18 to go. That was when Muhammad checked in and quickly stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer, his third of the game.
“Shabazz made a big three when we were struggling there late in the game,” Howland said. “It’s nice that he’s healthy again because he missed two days of practice because of the flu. He’s feeling a lot better now.”
With this win, UCLA will now play five of its last seven games on the road against some of the higher-end Pac-12 teams, but the Bruins said they believe they are ready for the challenge.
“We’re really starting to get our confidence back,” Muhammad said. “Last game we got a really solid, quality win and we brought that into tonight.”