Bruins come out on top in ‘must-win’

It was a rare play, indeed. UCLA was up by five with under two minutes to play at Stanford. Shabazz Muhammad nailed a three pointer on the right wing while falling on his wallet.

Count the basket, plus the foul.

As he was helped up by his teammates, the Bruins talented freshman cracked a smile. The four-point play is rare. Muhammad showing his teeth on the basketball court is rarer. It sealed the deal for the Bruins in a 88-80 win over Stanford (15-10, 6-6 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion.

Fitting, Muhammad would cap the win for the Bruins (19-7, 9-4 Pac-12) considering he put a ton of pressure on himself and his teammates calling Saturday afternoon a “must-win” after the Bruins dropped the first game on their weekend trip to the Bay Area.

He was able to get his fellow star freshmen to buy into that notion as well. The trio of Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, and Muhammad combined for 63 points and shot 63 percent from the field.

“This was a must-win like I said (after the Cal loss),” said Muhammad to FOX Sports Radio. “(We) just came out here and played hard. Everybody scored. We were really unselfish with the ball. That’s what counts.

“Everybody played as a team.”

For each of the freshmen it was a game to, hopefully, get back on track.

Muhammad, who had 25 points on Saturday against the Cardinal, bounced back from a 13-point performance at Cal in which he only scored two points in a first half marred by foul trouble.

For Adams, who started his career with four consecutive games of 20 or more points, he shot the ball much better than he has in recent weeks. Adams finished with 20 points and reached the 20-point plateau for the first time since December. He was efficient, connecting on 7-of-9 shots for his highest shooting percentage of the season.

Meanwhile, Anderson may have played his best game as a Bruin. Sure, statistically he’s had a better game with the 20 points and 17 rebounds he put up against Fresno State in December, but considering the opponent, what was at stake for the Bruins, and the challenge issued by Muhammad, the 6-foot-9 freshman definitely answered the call with 18 points and 13 boards.

He also had four assists and even connected on a three pointer to give the Bruins a five-point lead early in the second half. It was just his fifth three-point make of the season and his first in 29 days.

Things that hindered the Bruins in the past were addressed on Saturday. Complacency which led to them being demolished at Cal just two days prior was thrown out of the window. Playing on a Saturday afternoon following a Thursday night game was also troubling for the Bruins recently with losses to Oregon and at Arizona State. The focus appeared to be sharp at Maples Pavilion.

Also, there were the rebounding concerns. While UCLA didn’t win the rebounding battle against the Cardinal, they didn’t lose it. The Bruins and Cardinal finished with 37 rebounds apiece.

They were more physical and tough around the ball. Contribution also came from the guards, which was a major point of emphasis. Adams, Muhammad, and Norman Powell combined for 11 rebounds.

Eight days now separate the Bruins from their next game at USC on Sunday, Feb. 24. The last time the Bruins endured such a long layoff, it resulted in them being upset by the Trojans.

“We’re getting ready for ‘SC,” Muhammad said. “We’re really going to go hard (in practice) and try to get that win.”

Prior to UCLA’s game at Arizona last month, Muhammad called it a “gotta-win.” Of course, he referred to Saturday’s meeting with Stanford a “must-win.”

Muhammad combined for 48 points in both games leading the Bruins to much needed road wins. Whatever his choice of words, it’s worked.