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Muhammad leads way in UCLA’s win over Oregon State

After struggling from the field in UCLA’s two road games against Utah and Colorado, freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad rebounded in a big way Thursday night with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting.

Men's Basketball

UCLA 74 Oregon State 64

By Chris Nguyen

Jan. 18, 2013 1:40 a.m.

UCLA fans braced themselves for deja vu.

Against both Utah and Colorado, UCLA built up seemingly insurmountable leads in the second half after sluggish starts to the game. In both cases, the Bruins coughed up their comfortable lead, allowing it to dwindle in the waning minutes of the game.

This time, UCLA finished strong and fought off Oregon State runs with runs of its own down the stretch. The Bruins built up a 20-point lead just five minutes into the second half and cruised their way to a 74-64 win over the Oregon State Beavers, who are now winless in conference play.

“I told our guys early in the second half we had a 20-point lead and we get to where we relax,” said coach Ben Howland. “We take our foot off the pedal a little bit and we have to learn to be able to power through that and not let teams come back on us. That’s happened to us the last three home games so hopefully we can get a little better at that.”

UCLA, on the other hand, is now 5-0 in Pac-12 play and on a 10-game win streak, marking the first time the Bruins have gotten off to such a start in conference since the 2003-2004 season – Howland’s first year at the helm of the UCLA basketball program.

However, Howland said that he believes this team is much better than the one he coached in his first year.

After falling into a five-point hole at the very beginning of the game, Howland called a quick timeout and set his team back on course. The Bruins responded with a 20-7 run to gain the lead – one they wouldn’t let slip this time around.

Freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad provided much of the offensive firepower, shooting an efficient 8-of-14 from the floor, amassing 21 points along with six rebounds. Thursday was the seventh time, out of the 15 contests he has played this season, that Muhammad has breached the 20-point barrier.

Muhammad struggled in the two previous contests on the road against Utah and Colorado, scoring a combined 20 points on 9-of-29 shooting.

“I just let the game come to me tonight,” Muhammad said. “My teammates gave me an opportunity to score. I think I played fast on the road. I’m not sure if it was jitters. Our confidence as a team has improved our chemistry; we are really trusting each other.”

And while the Bruins were on cruise control, perhaps the most exciting moment for fans was during halftime as former UCLA great Jamaal Wilkes’ jersey was retired – just the eighth Bruin to have the honor.

In a halftime ceremony, Wilkes’ No. 52 was placed in the rafters among the likes of Gail Goodrich, Ed O’Bannon, Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sidney Wicks, Walt Hazzard and Marques Johnson.

“It’s real tough to get your number retired. So many great players have come through here that don’t have their numbers retired – I was one of them for a long time,” Wilkes said.

Accompanying Wilkes to the court to accept the honor were other UCLA legends such as Walton and Abdul-Jabbar.

When asked the impact of having these alumni around on the current team, Wilkes said, “Even if they don’t understand it, I think it gives the program a shot in the arm. They may not know John Wooden’s career but they know of him as an icon and to bring back an iconic figure like him through one of his players, I think, helps the program.”

And a shot in the arm is just what the Bruins could use by Saturday with the team set to take on the No. 21 Oregon Ducks, who knocked off the then-No. 4 and undefeated Arizona Wildcats on Jan. 10.

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