Shabazz Muhammad stood at the free-throw line with the opportunity to seal a huge victory over Pac-12 conference rival Arizona in front of a record-setting crowd at Pauley Pavilion.
The star freshman forward/guard is likely to leave for the NBA following this season, meaning his one-and-one free throw opportunity would probably be the last image in Pauley that Bruin fans would remember him by: Saturday was UCLA’s final home game of the season.
“It was in the back of my mind,” Muhammad said of the situation at hand. “But it was Larry (Drew II)’s senior night and I told him we’d get a win before the game, so I had to make those free throws for him.”
Muhammad, as star players do when given the opportunity, hit two free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining to give him a game-high 18 points and UCLA a comfortable five-point lead.
On the ensuing possession, it was Drew, the Bruins’ only senior, who forced Arizona point guard Mark Lyons to turn the ball over, sealing the Bruins’ (22-7, 12-4) 74-69 victory over the No. 11 Wildcats (23-6, 11-6).
Drew finished the game with 14 points and nine assists, which brought him within nine assists of the all-time UCLA single season record held by Pooh Richardson at 236.
“I’m so excited about Larry Drew and what he’s brought to this team,” coach Ben Howland said. “His leadership along with his fine overall play has been great. He deserves a lot of credit.”
As if the setting and performance weren’t special enough, Drew’s father, Larry Drew Sr., who coaches the Atlanta Hawks, was able to attend the game, as the Hawks play the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center tonight.
“It’s crazy because my mother was talking about this being my last game and she said my father was coming too,” Drew said. “I could not believe what a great coincidence it was. I love that he got to come see me play.”
While Drew and Muhammad took center stage, freshman guard Kyle Anderson and redshirt junior forward David Wear had some of their best performances of the season.
Anderson scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Wear added 10 points and nine rebounds to aid the dinged-up Bruins, who were playing their third game of the week.
“We were well prepared for it and we just wanted to play our game,” Anderson said. “We didn’t want to let all of the (ESPN College) GameDay hype get to us and we came out with a win.”
The Bruins now sit tied with the Oregon Ducks atop the Pac-12 standings with two games remaining. But regardless of how the regular season closes out, Howland and his squad are confident about their position.
“Everybody on our team has improved a lot this year, not just our freshmen,” Howland said. “We’re winning close games and that’s what we expect. We’re peaking at the right time.”