The week off from games seemed to do right for UCLA.
Up to this point, the Bruins have played well below the expectations that preceded the season and much can be due to the lack of experience in this year’s roster.
Riddled with freshmen stars, UCLA has the potential to be great but is missing their own personality that’s necessary to win big games.
With the week off, coach Ben Howland spent most of his time teaching the young freshmen how to play defense on the collegiate level. Something that has been lacking through the first few weeks of the season.
It paid off.
Saturday, the Bruins dominated Prairie View A&M, winning 95-53 for their third straight win.
UCLA put on a clinic on the defensive end. They forced 18 turnovers, 9 coming off steals. They also recorded 9 blocks, led by Travis Wear who had five.
Shabazz Muhammad had his first dominant game of the year, leading all scorers with 25 points. This is the type of play we’ve been expecting from the high school player of the year. Kyle Anderson put together a solid effort all around, scoring 16 with 11 rebounds and 7 assists.
Freshman Tony Parker finally got some time off the pine in the blowout win. He made the most of it, scoring 9 points on 4 of 4 shooting. He also recorded 1 block.
Now some may say this win is meaningless, it was against Prairie View A&M.
Look at the bigger picture.
Up to this point, UCLA has looked lazy and slow. Really slow.
Critics began calling for the team to switch to a zone, full-time. (Good luck with that. Besides Jim Boeheim’s zone at Syracuse, I can’t think of a team running a good enough zone defense to make a run in March).
Saturday’s game showed progress. The week off gave UCLA time to really learn from Howland, and each other. They showed great awareness and the help defense was there.
Along with defense, the team showed enthusiasm, maybe even having a good time on the court. Different from the sullen looks seen from the team in earlier games.
Now the Bruins need to build on this win. It’s not time to be satisfied, but if anything this should make the team hungry as ever.
The potential is there; we’ll see what they do with it.
Next up, the Bruins come home to Pauley Pavilion in a matchup with Long Beach State on Tuesday.