This article was updated on Feb. 19 at 11:53 p.m.
There wasn’t too much Bruin blue in Berkeley, Calif. on Thursday night, when the UCLA men’s basketball team’s effort was minimal and reflected in the point total.
The UCLA faithful residing in the Bay Area didn’t quit on their team, flocking to Maples Pavilion in greater numbers Saturday. Luckily for the paying Bruins, the team showed up too.
The Bruins’ Bay Area road trip ended as a split, thanks to UCLA’s 88-80 win over Stanford. While the game against Cal was an exhibition in nothing going right, UCLA (19-7, 9-4 Pac-12) righted most of the wrongs against Stanford (15-11, 6-7).
Neither team put up a tough defensive front as four players on each side finished with double-digit scoring totals. UCLA was led by Shabazz Muhammad (25), Jordan Adams (20), Kyle Anderson (18) and Larry Drew II (14).
The Bruins are at their best when they can out-run and out-score other teams, which they could do against the Cardinal but couldn’t against the Bears.
“You could see that our guys were really up and ready to play today,” said coach Ben Howland.
Howland was baffled as to why his team lacked that fire two days earlier, but it’s clear that the effort level of the team on the road trip, half freshmen with only three quiet upperclassmen, is sinusoidal – while on Thursday it was at a low point, Saturday it hit a peak.
On Saturday, the effort was there. It showed in the way UCLA scored and hit the glass, especially with Anderson, who added 13 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season.
Anderson moved with urgency and came up with 11 defensive rebounds but shook his head in anger every time he missed one going toe-to-toe with Stanford’s Josh Huestis, one of the conference’s best rebounders.
“(Howland) challenged me to keep Huestis, second in the conference for offensive rebounds, to keep him off the glass,” Anderson said. “I slipped a couple of times, but for the most part I think I did a good job of that.”
UCLA still ended on the wrong side of the rebounding margin thanks to Huestis and Stanford grabbing a bunch of garbage-time boards. But for most of the game, Howland’s favorite stat was in the Bruins’ favor and it directly translated to how the Bruins were playing.
“As long as we can get rebounds, we can get up and down the floor,” Drew said. “That’s our whole game right there.”
The Bruins are at their best when they can fly down the court. But against Stanford, simply getting those easy fast break buckets made running the half-court offense easier.
Muhammad was hounded by double- and triple-teams throughout the loss to Cal, leading to contested shot attempts and turnovers. Stanford chose to use just a single man on Muhammad.
“It was a big relief,” Muhammad said. “The double-teams are always hard especially if guys aren’t moving. It was good coming off picks and just getting free shots.”
Muhammad is most effective as a shooter when running around an off-ball screen. UCLA’s limited half-court offense revolves around teammates setting strong screens to free up Muhammad and have him calmly rise up for an open jumper, usually an accurate shot when his feet are set and his body is square with the basket.
On Saturday, he was able to shake off a host of Cardinal players that guarded him. In a key stretch with UCLA up just a point, he curled off picks on back-to-back plays, calmly sinking mid-range jumpers on both to put the Bruins up six.
His biggest shot was a four-point play he converted with just under two minutes left, when he once again ran off a screen to the right wing. Travis Wear found him and Muhammad rose up and drained the triple as Stanford’s Chasson Randle crashed into him. Muhammad smiled, got up and added the free throw to double UCLA’s lead and put the game out of reach.
“I set my man up every time,” said Muhammad, who shot nine out of 14 for the game. “He thought I was going (another) way, and it was easy to get the shot up.”
The Stanford faithful tried to tell Muhammad he was “overrated” but it was a half-hearted attempt with the way he was playing. Throughout the game, the 8-claps and chants of “UC-LA” loudly rang throughout Maples (or was it North Pauley?) Pavilion.
“They were louder than Pauley in here,” Muhammad said of the Bay Area Bruins in attendance. “And it was like 30 people. That was great.”