Regarding UCLA’s basketball team, it was quite the festive atmosphere this weekend…
ESPN’s “College Game Day” did their weekly telecast from Pauley Pavilion early Saturday morning with several thousand students – many of whom were camping outside of Pauley all night – showing their pride in Bruin Nation in a most enthusiastic fashion.
On top of all that, the Bruins had a key showdown game with the 11th-ranked Arizona Wildcats that evening, a nationally televised feature with much implications as to who would be on the inside track to the Pac-12 championship, the season now having a week to go.
And with a sell-out crowd no less, the first since Pauley’s renovation.
When considering all of that, it was more or less unthinkable that UCLA would lose the contest after having the nation’s attention thrust upon them on Saturday.
And Ben Howland’s team did not disappoint, as 13,727 fans went home happy after the Bruins completed their sweep of Arizona with a 74-69 win that left them tied with Oregon at 12-4 (22-7 overall) with just two regular season games to go.
Actually four teams – California and Arizona along with Oregon and UCLA – are within a game and a half of each other going into the final weekend; if this was Major League Baseball people would be talking about how this is the most exciting pennant race that has been seen in a long time.
But back to the Bruins’ big win over the now-23 and 6 and 11-6 in the conference Wildcats:
It was apparent that the national exposure that “College Game Day” provided and the pronounced enthusiasm of UCLA’s students and the fans galvanized the team, as they lead pretty much throughout and, when Arizona made a late run, sealed the deal when Shabazz Muhammad scored the last four points of the game, including getting a key defensive rebound and making two subsequent free throws with ten seconds left.
This super-freshman in a group of super freshmen, the number one/number two recruit in the country (depending on who you talk to) who proved to be as advertised as he is UCLA’s leading scorer, ended up leading everybody with 18 points, with Kyle Anderson adding 17 points and seven rebounds.
David Wear provided some great moments off the bench with his ten points on four-of-six shooting and nine boards, and Larry Drew II – the only senior on the squad – capped his Senior Night with 14 points and nine assists as Saturday marked his last game in Pauley.
And speaking of “Last Game in Pauley”, Howland voiced afterwards what every Bruin, who chanted “One more year!” as the clock ran down, has acknowledged regarding Muhammad:
“That was his last game in Pauley…There’s no doubt about it. I know that. He knows that. We all know that…”
“I knew going into this, (that) this deal was a one-year thing…” the UCLA coach continued. “He’s a lottery pick…”
Muhammad, who sort of left the door open a tiny crack to returning next year when he commented, “…I have a lot of eligibility left…We could be really good next year,” may well not be the only one announcing his intent to enter the NBA draft this spring as there’s a good chance that Anderson and Jordan Adams, who have had very good seasons as well, may be gone, too.
But those speculations should be put into the category of we’ll-cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-to-it as with the Bruins being tied for first place in the conference with two games left, then having a Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas to play in order to enhance their resume for the NCAA Tourney, their focus should be on finishing strong as they head into the Pacific Northwest for a rematch with the Washington schools.
In the grand tradition of so-close-you-can-taste-it and we-have-come-too-far, a conference title is within reach.
And I know that it has been said before, but this coming weekend will not only be interesting, but quite exciting for everyone in Westwood.
Washington State Cougars, Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, WA – Wednesday, March 6, 6:30 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks