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UCLA BASKETBALL

Larry Drew II brings the outside in for UCLA

He and his teammates see the value in him shooting three-pointers as well as distributing the ball. He has gained confidence in shooting when he is open while raising his shooting percentage to 43.8%.

February 19, 2013|By Chris Foster

UCLA point guard Larry Drew II, the offensive distributor, was trying his hand at being an offensive contributor.

The Stanford defense slacked off him, and he made a three-pointer for a 17-16 lead in the first half. And when the Cardinal backed away again later in the half, Drew burned them with another three.

"Those threes in the first half opened up everything," Drew said.

It was obvious to everyone.

"I've been telling him that most of the season," forward Travis Wear said, smiling. "He'd be like, 'I'm looking for a cutter.' He's a great distributor, but it's balancing the two. We want Larry to score. It allows other things to happen, other lanes to open up."

That became clear in the Stanford game. Drew made five of nine shots, including those two three-pointers, and finished with 14 points. Other Bruins had their best shooting games in weeks in an 88-80 victory.

Drew is fourth in the nation, averaging 7.7 assists per game. But one of the strategies used against the Bruins this season has been to slack off Drew and prevent him from penetrating.

USC employed that game plan in a 75-71 overtime victory on Jan. 30, when Drew made only three of 11 shots.

But when the teams meet again Sunday at the Galen Center, USC will encounter a player much more willing to shoot.

Drew has made 14 of 27 shots since the USC game, raising his shooting percentage to 43.8%. He has made seven of 10 three-pointers in the last four games.

"I think it has given him more confidence to shoot the ball when he's wide open," Coach Ben Howland said. "We want him to do that. He'll pick and choose."

The offense, teammates say, flows better when Drew is hitting outside shots.

"It makes the defense be honest," guard Kyle Anderson said. "His man won't be able to help off on other players. It frees up everybody."

Muhammad sits

Forward Shabazz Muhammad, whose scoring average of 18.5 points leads the Bruins, sat out Tuesday's practice because of pink eye, Howland said.

"He is very contagious and his eye is swollen," the coach said.

The Bruins do not have a practice scheduled for Wednesday. Howland was hopeful Muhammad would be back Thursday.

Lock out?

With eight days between games, Howland was adamant that the Bruins take Wednesday off.

"Some of these guys are gym rats," Howland said. The day off, he added, "is negated if they come in here and shoot from 10 a.m. until 1 a.m., which they have been known to do."

Howland made the point clear to the players, though those orders may be hard to follow.

"He yelled at us for being in gym so much, but we can't help it. It is what we do," said Anderson, who is from New Jersey. "This is my first time with access to a gym any time I want. I'm used to going to a park in 20-degree weather."

Dance off

The Bruins have not forgotten the "Dancing With the Stars"-like performance by the Trojans, who strutted around Pauley Pavilion after winning last month.

So will the Bruins return the favor if they win at the Galen Center?

"Absolutely," Anderson said. "Absolutely, absolutely."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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