After all the turmoil of getting beaten up by their crosstown rivals on their home floor – with them having a losing record and an interim coach, no less – and needing a shot from Larry Drew II with less then a second left to just barely get by a mediocre Washington Huskies team, it was nice for UCLA to have a game where they could handle their opponent with little problems.
That was what happened against the last place team in the Pac-12 Conference, the Washington State Cougars, on Saturday in Pauley Pavilion as the Bruins shot 62% from the field, the first time they shot that well since 2010, and handled their business against Wazzu, 76-62.
As usual, many of the seats in Pauley were empty despite the announced attendance of 10,090, and most of the biggest cheers during the game were for Bruin football coach Jim Mora when he was introduced during halftime, but except for the fact that UCLA was out rebounded by the Cougars, especially on the offensive end as the Cougars beat them there 15-5, the Bruins had a relatively easy time with Washington State as they scored the game’s first 14 points and took a 39-24 lead after the first 20 minutes.
In a nice spreading out of the scoring, four Bruins were in double figures, led by Shabazz Muhammad’s 17 points. Jordan Adams added 14, Kyle Anderson contributed 12 with seven assists, and Travis Wear was a perfect five-for-five from the field on his way to 11 points.
Drew just missed the double figure club with his nine points, but his eight assists were a good touch.
The best thing about this triumph was the fact that at 18-6 overall and 8-3 in the Pac-12, and with California scoring a stunning upset over Arizona (more on the Golden Bears in a bit), UCLA is now in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with Arizona and Oregon with seven games remaining.
Those seven games will no doubt decide the fate of the Bruins – and coach Ben Howland – one way or another as five of the seven contests will be away from Pauley Pavilion, starting with a Valentine’s Day date in Berkeley with that same group of players that knocked over those Wildcats in Tucson.
It’s crystal clear, as this season is starting to wind down, that in basketball the Pac-12 is a conference that is not only wide open to the extreme as far as who could become its champion, but also in the sense that, in the grand tradition of that old cliche, anyone can beat anyone on a given day; UCLA proved that by beating then-sixth ranked Arizona one week and losing to a then-8 and 13 USC squad just a few days later.
As Howland concurred after his team took care of Wazzu, “It’s hard to win in this conference whether you’re at home or on the road.”
And it will be a difficult task for these Bruins over these next three weeks as they could go 5-2 or better, but could every bit as easily go 2-5 or worse.
Can this Westwood bunch come through, or will they tank?
Stay tuned as this soap opera continues to unfold…
California Golden Bears, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, CA – Thursday, February 14, 6:00 p.m.