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Sleepy Bruins wake up in time to put Arizona State to bed

Once they get going in the second half of the Pac-12 quarterfinal, they don't let their pajama-like Adidas uniforms hold them back. Larry Drew II is a standout.

March 14, 2013|Bill Plaschke

LAS VEGAS — A UCLA basketball team that has sleepwalked through parts of the season has taken the metaphor to an entirely new level.

On Thursday, the Bruins won a basketball game in their pajamas.

In their 80-75 comeback victory over Arizona State in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins were resourceful, resilient, and just so darn cute.

Thanks to new uniforms provided by Adidas — the athletic department's owner, er, sponsor — the Bruins looked like Care Bears. They wore fluffy white shorts adorned with little gray squigglies. Their UCLA jerseys contained shirt sleeves covered in the same finger-painted mess.

They appeared to have just climbed out of bed. This wasn't a tradition-rich basketball team but an '80s lounge act. John Wooden would have immediately ordered them back into the locker room to put on something decent.

Other schools run by Adidas have allowed the shoe company to splatter similar designs over their uniforms, but since when is UCLA's blue-and-gold basketball history for sale, particularly during the postseason? Since now, apparently.

"Everybody seems to hate them — the older folks really aren't feeling them — but I think they're cool,'' guard Larry Drew II said of the uniforms. "It's time for a change, man, you can't keep living in the past."

Sitting in the MGM Grand Garden Arena locker room after the Bruins' victory, Drew tugged on his shorts to show that, indeed, somewhere in that fashion disaster there was a tiny bit of blue and gold.

"And look, there's even some red," he said with a grin, pointing to a spot of blood.

Thus he told the story of this game in one fell swatch. UCLA was unsightly but indefatigable, its lack of sartorial sense overcome by its fierceness in sporting it.

After the Bruins trailed by 15 points early in the second half, those uniforms became a blur.

It was Shabazz Muhammad going the length of the court for a dunk over 7-footer Jordan Bachynski. It was an alley-oop from Drew to a dunking Travis Wear. It was Muhammad stealing an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, laying it in and screaming.

It was all so slot-machine fast, it was stunning to realize that when Drew hit a three-pointer with 4 minutes 58 seconds remaining, UCLA was leading for the first time since the opening moments. It was especially stunning to Drew, who, like others, had difficulty reading the giant overhead scoreboard in a casino arena with no end zone scoreboard.

"I could see the time, but not the score…. I just started remembering the score," Drew said. "That's why I knew when I hit that shot we were up two."

Um, they were up by one. But Drew's mental memory can be forgiven for his muscle memory, as he later hit another three-pointer to give UCLA another lead in completing his best game in a UCLA so-called uniform, with 20 points, four assists and only two turnovers.

If the Bruins are going to play deep into March, it's going to be on this senior's shoulders, just as this program once rode through the madness atop guards Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook.

"Coming into timeouts, the assistant coaches kept telling me, 'Put us on your back, keep shooting, keep attacking,'" Drew said. "I just took it upon myself to make things happen."

And, in the end, bless him, he stopped something from happening, as he raced over and helped throttle Muhammad while the freshman was foolishly trash talking to Carrick Felix after Felix kicked him after a desperate late foul.

"I saw Shabazz go down, I saw him jump back up, I saw this look in his eyes, and I thought, 'Oh no,'" Drew said. "Everything we've been through, it would be pointless to throw everything away because of a stupid play."

Muhammad calmed. The Bruins advanced. And even Coach Ben Howland rocked, sort of, when asked about those uniforms.

"You know what, I'm 55, but I'm hip, I'm cool," he said, momentarily swaying his shoulders.

Yeah, that really happened.

"But," he added, "we're going back to our UCLA traditional jersey tomorrow."

That's a sweet notion. But has anybody asked Adidas?

Twitter: @billplaschke

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