The stakes: weak. The competition: weaker. And, yes, it was just one game.
But, qualifications aside, this is a season of baby steps for the baby Bruins' basketball team, and Saturday, the fledgling squad took a few key strides forward.
First, the Shabazz Muhammad that UCLA fans expected to see finally showed up, scoring a career-high 25 in the Bruins' 95-53 buzzer-to-buzzer beatdown of Prairie View A&M before a crowd of 6,351 at Pauley Pavilion.
Muhammad vowed this week that he'd be more explosive after shedding about 10 pounds, and he lived up to his word, hitting turnaround jump shots in traffic, transition three-point bombs, and bulling toward the basket for layups with ease.
"That extra weight I had was making me more tired," Muhammad said, "and today I felt like I could run all night."
In all, the highly rated 6-foot-6 freshman swingman showcased the skill set that tantalized folks into thinking that he's a shoe-in NBA lottery pick this June.
Coach Ben Howland said Muhammad had his best practice of the season this week, and it sure rolled over into the game.
"I really had a lot of fun tonight," Muhammad said. "I am starting to feel a lot more confident and I am feeling really good about my game."
Of course, his competition for the evening wasn't exactly stiff.
UCLA (7-3) led the Panthers (5-6) by as many as 44 points on the way to its largest margin of victory this season.
The game was tied at 7-7, and then the Bruins closed the half on a 39-16 run.
Freshman Kyle Anderson scored a career-high 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and added a career-high seven assists for the Bruins. Freshmen Tony Parker and Jordan Adams each scored nine. Ten Bruins scored in all, and the team shot 56% from the floor.
The Panthers' Ryan Gesiakowski scored a team-high 14 points.
UCLA had been lacking a killer instinct for most of its season, allowing teams to hang around, or, worse, steal a win (see: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo).
Howland said he saw more of that instinct from his squad against the Panthers, and it helped that the Bruins' man-to-man defense tightened up quite a bit following several days of practice on that scheme.
"It all came together tonight," Anderson said.
Well, the mistakes common to UCLA's man defense in previous games weren't as evident, at least.
Instead, the Bruins hassled the Panthers for much of the game, holding them to 34% shooting from the floor and just 23 points at halftime. UCLA also scored 30 points off 18 Prairie View A&M turnovers.
"Our guys are learning that it is hard to play man defense, especially having attention to detail," Howland said.
Few brown spots on the apple could be found in the Bruins' win, a nice way to kick off a six-game homestand.
One small step for the baby Bruins, one sizable leap in their confidence going forward.