LOS ANGELES — The young Bruins have continued to evolve right in front of head coach Ben Howland’s eyes, extending their season-high winning streak to seven games in a 68-60 win over Stanford on Saturday.
Standing front and center in this evolution of the Bruins (12-3, 2-0 Pac-12) is talented freshman Shabazz Muhammad. As he continues to progress, so does his team.
Starting the season 20 pounds overweight, Muhammad has morphed himself back into playing shape.
If Thursday night’s win over Cal was about his developing as a defender, then Saturday’s matinee against the Cardinal (9-6, 0-2) was about him as a rebounder.
Among the things Howland wanted to see Muhammad do better was rebounding, especially on the defensive end. Muhammad had shown an ability to crash the offensive glass, but didn’t have the same intensity when it came to rebounding on defense, often times leaking out to the offensive end of the floor.
Ever the good listener to criticism of his game, Muhammad took those words to heart and matched a career-high with 10 rebounds.
“He took the challenge on that,” Howland said. “I really challenged him. I said, ‘Hey, if you don’t block out, if you don’t do a good job, we’re going to lose,’ and he seems to respond to challenges pretty good.”
Muhammad acknowledged he’s been challenged by coaches in the past, but this time around it’s different trying to keep players off the glass when they are bigger and stronger than he faced during his high school days.
“I try to answer (the challenge),” Muhammad said. “I’m such a competitive person with anything. Today I thought I did a really good job getting seven defensive rebounds and really helping my team out to win.”
In addition to his rebounding, Muhammad finished with a game-high 23 points to record the second double-double of his career.
The Bruins led by as many as 15 with 11:16 left in the second half, but Stanford cut the deficit to five with under a minute to play. For all of the strides the Bruins made on Saturday, they were uncharacteristic in certain areas.
UCLA committed 14 turnovers, which were more than it had in the previous two games combined. The Bruins also had some issues at the free-throw line. Jordan Adams, who is usually automatic, missed four. It’s the most he’s missed in a game this season. Adams had missed three free throws in a game just once.
As a team, the Bruins missed four in a row down the stretch that allowed Stanford to get in striking distance. However, they closed the game making nine in a row from the foul line.
Playing against former high school teammate Andy Brown, twins Travis and David Wear scored the first 15 points of the game for the Bruins. Travis scored the first seven before David came off the bench to score eight straight. It took 10:29 before another Bruin besides those two scored a point.
UCLA held Stanford to 34 percent shooting for the game.
During this current seven-game win streak, which is the school’s longest since it won 10 games in a row during the 2008-09 season, UCLA has grown leaps and bounds from the squad that lost to Cal Poly at home in late November.
“We look like a whole different team,” Muhammad said. “The Cal Poly game, we weren’t playing defense. The offense wasn’t gelling. Guys didn’t know what guys were going to do. Now we know what everybody is going to do on the floor, how comfortable everybody is, and our weaknesses.”
UCLA must now see if it can take this winning formula on the road with it next week for their first two true road games of the season at Utah and Colorado.