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UCLA victory is not a mirage

Shabazz Muhammad has 23 points and the Bruins start fast to get a rare victory, 84-73, over the Wildcats in Arizona.

January 24, 2013|By Chris Foster

TUCSON — This was a game the young UCLA Bruins seemingly had no business winning.

Yet at the end, there was Kyle Anderson trying to give high fives to Arizona students, and finding no takers.

There was Jordan Adams, weary from two days of illness, bouncing toward the locker room, grinning at the silence.

There was Shabazz Muhammad having the last laugh, as the student section at McKale Center left behind the placards personally addressed to him — some funny, some not.

Freshmen having fun.

The 84-73 victory over sixth-ranked Arizona on Thursday probably won't sink in for a bit, at least with UCLA's freshmen. But this was big, especially coming off a home loss to Oregon. It kept the Bruins a game behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 standings.

The Bruins left Tucson with a victory for the first time since 2008, the last time they won the conference title, by beating a team that had a 44-2 home record the last two-plus seasons.

"It's probably tough for the freshmen to get it," UCLA forward David Wear said. "They don't realize how much we've struggled playing here the past couple years. This place is packed. The student section is crazy. There are not a lot of teams that can come out of here with a victory."

The Bruins (16-4, 6-1) did, even after losing Travis Wear, their second-leading scorer, to a concussion in the first half. They also had to do without Adams, who went to the locker room in the second half because of cramps.

"It was 10 real minutes and I thought it was 15," Coach Ben Howland said. "That's the way it seemed."

Time did drag for the Bruins, especially after they bolted to a 21-5 lead after eight minutes.

But …

"I knew in my head, 'They're going to make runs at us,'" guard Larry Drew II said.

The Wildcats (16-2, 4-2) did, getting as close as 55-51 with 11 minutes left. Drew ran the offense, finishing with nine assists, keeping Arizona at arm's length.

"It's going to be hard to forget this one," said Muhammad, who had a team-high 23 points. "This is the sixth-ranked team. We're probably going to see ourselves on ESPN and all that stuff, and everyone is hyping us up."

But, he said, "You're only as good as your last game."

Then the Bruins are pretty good at the moment.

UCLA can point to defense as the tipping point. Arizona shot 38%. And the rebounding — the root cause of the Oregon loss — was better. The Bruins had a 45-44 edge.

But it was the grit that mattered.

Anderson missed practice with flu Tuesday. Adams was also sick, and had to leave practice a couple of times. Things got worse when Travis Wear took an elbow to the head in the first half. He said after the game that he was hoping to play against Arizona State.

"I have to pass a couple of concussion tests," he said.

The Bruins have only eight scholarship players. They were down to six when Adams went to the locker room to hydrate.

"I had four Gatorades," Adams said. "I was so full, I thought they were all going to come back up."

UCLA looked to others.

David Wear had added minutes with his brother out. He finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Freshman Tony Parker played 10 minutes, the most in a month. He had six points, two on a spin move and fall-away jumper where he was fouled and made the free throw for a 63-55 lead with six minutes left.

"I thought he was more aggressive tonight," Howland said.

So was Muhammad.

The freshman guard had talked this week about "taking it upon myself to win this game." Howland said he "didn't win it by himself." He did, though, come close.

Muhammad made eight of 16 shots, and was blistering from the start.

Said Howland: "The one thing you notice about Shabazz, that you see in very few players, when the lights are on and the cameras are on, his game raises. It always gets better."

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