UCLA-Washington St. Preview
While it's uncertain where Shabazz Muhammad or some others in UCLA's talented freshman class will play next season, their current focus is on helping the Bruins win their first conference title in five years.
Trying for a fifth consecutive victory Wednesday night, the No. 23 Bruins head to the road looking to continue their dominance of a Washington State squad mired in its longest slide in 10 seasons.
Winners in six of seven and back in the Top 25 for the first time since mid-January, UCLA (22-7, 12-4) is tied with No. 19 Oregon for first place in the Pac-12. California is a half-game back of the conference lead and hosts Stanford on Wednesday.
The Bruins, who last won the league title in 2008, close the regular season with two games in the state of Washington while the Ducks play at Colorado and Utah.
"It would be really sweet to win the Pac-12," Muhammad said after scoring 18 in Saturday's 74-69 victory over No. 18 Arizona.
UCLA coach Ben Howland was quick to call that outing Muhammad's last at Pauley Pavilion. Averaging 18.3 points and 5.1 rebounds, the versatile swingman is a projected top 10 NBA draft pick.
"I knew going into this deal that this was a one-year deal and it should be," Howland said Saturday. "That was absolutely his last game in Pauley Pavilion. I know that, he knows that, we all know that. We want the season to go as long as possible for him."
Howland, however, apologized Monday for his hasty comments.
"I'm sorry that I even ... I'm sometimes too honest because it would have been better to have answered that question differently the other day because I've never discussed it with Shabazz," Howland said.
Muhammad does not seem to be in a rush to make that decision.
"It's still a long season of basketball," he said.
While it's also uncertain how long fellow freshman Jordan Adams (15.0 ppg) plans to stay in Westwood, leading rebounder Kyle Anderson claims he's not given much thought to whether he'll be one and done.
"I'm too caught up in the season and what we can do to get better," said the 6-foot-9 Anderson, who has averaged 16.8 points and 11.0 boards during the current four-game win streak.
After winning three of those four by eight points or fewer, UCLA must remain focused on the present. Though the Bruins have won 19 in a row at Washington State (11-18, 2-14), the last two meetings there have been decided by a combined seven points.
UCLA has won eight straight and 32 of 34 against the Cougars, but both defeats came under Howland.
"I'm weary of this game," he said. "Those of us who have been there know how many close calls we've had in Pullman. I know, and I am trying to press upon our players, that if we don't show up and play our best we'll definitely give ourselves an opportunity to lose."
Muhammad scored 17 as the Bruins shot a season-high 62.0 percent in a 76-62 home win over Washington State on Feb. 9.
While the Cougars' current nine-game skid is their longest since dropping 14 straight from Jan. 2-Feb. 20, 2003, they've lost the last two at home by three points combined. They blew a 17-point lead en route to a 79-77 overtime defeat to Oregon in their most recent home contest Feb. 16.
Senior forward Brock Motum is averaging 18.8 points in the last four games versus UCLA. He scored 18 in the Cougars' 72-68 loss at Washington on Saturday.