The UCLA Bruins (17-6, 7-3 Pac-12) survived an ugly, back-and-forth affair versus Washington (13-10, 5-5 Pac-12) on Thursday, eventually downing the Dawgs on a buzzer-beater from Larry Drew II.
Drew II had a very active night for UCLA, finishing the game with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, six assists and five steals. Drew’s imprint on the game was undeniable, but nothing was bigger than his elbow jumper as the clock struck triple-zeroes.
But despite the final score being in favor of UCLA, the Bruin faithful can’t feel too confident about another nail-biter at home against an average opponent.
As a team, UCLA shot just 33.3 percent from the field, including an abysmal 22.2 percent from behind the arc. The Bruins’ point total of 59 was far below their season average of 76.8 PPG.
Freshman G/F Shabazz Muhammad was the only UCLA player to score in double figures, tallying 22 points. But the problem is, it took Muhammad 23 shots to get there.
Conversely, Washington had four players score in double figures, as the Huskies shot a respectable 42.1 percent from the floor. And had it not been for an unspeakably awful 13.3 percent mark from three-point range, UW probably would have won this game.
For the Huskies, the obvious MVP of the trip to Pauley Pavilion was, as expected, 7’0″ center Aziz N’Diaye.
The senior from Senegal dominated the Bruins on the glass and in the paint, coming away with 18 rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Most of N’Diaye’s action came right around the rim, where he seemed to be the recipient of every put back on the offensive boards.
N’Diaye’s success was just the latest in a saga of struggles for UCLA’s interior defense, after the Bruins were overpowered in losses to Arizona State and USC. David and Travis Wear, both 6’10” forwards, haven’t been able to match the physicality of opponents, and freshman center Tony Parker’s game isn’t up to college speed just yet.
Unless head coach Ben Howland can find a way to lock down the post, UCLA will continue to come up short against bigger, stronger 4’s and 5’s. The Bruins were lucky to escape with a victory against N’Diaye and the Huskies, but luck won’t win them a Pac-12 championship this year.
The good news for UCLA is the conference title race is still wide open after first place Oregon lost for a third straight time tonight. The Ducks fell to the Colorado Buffaloes, 48-47, in Eugene despite 14 points each from E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory.
As it stands now, Arizona sits atop the standings with an 8-2 conference record, and Oregon, UCLA and ASU are all tied for second with 7-3 marks. The Ducks hold the head-to-head tiebreakers over the Bruins and Sun Devils, but anything can happen in the months of February and March.
UCLA now prepares to host a sub-.500 Washington State squad on Saturday, while UW travels across town to face the surprisingly dangerous USC Trojans. The pressure is on for the Bruins, who must continue to win to stay afloat in the Pac-12 title race.