NEW YORK — UCLA’s 60-56 win over Georgia was a slow, plodding game that provided little excitement for fans outside of Shabazz Muhammad’s significantly improved encore.
It’s clear that the Bruins’ offense is still a work in progress, that it might have to stick with a zone defense more often, and that the team will be better once fully healthy and in 100 percent game shape. For now, let’s focus on the most promising play of the night.
It came almost six minutes into the second half. Kyle Anderson had rebounded a missed 3-pointer, one of many that Georgia launched against UCLA’s 2-3 zone. He dribbled upcourt and, when he was somewhere between the arc and halfcourt, threaded a perfect bounce pass to Muhammad underneath the basket.
Muhammad bobbled it at first, but recovered to put away two points and draw a trip to the line. (He missed the and-one.) UCLA had a 39-35 lead.
“I know when he’s going to pass the ball and when he’s looking for a guy to cut,” Muhammad said after the game.
That was perhaps the only truly glowing moment for the Bruins all night, a glimpse at what the team’s up-tempo hopes could look like if ever fully realized. For now, though, Muhammad is still trying to improve his conditioning and Anderson is still feeling out the odd positional quandary he’s in between forward and point guard.
Muhammad scored a game-high 21 points to go with four boards, while Anderson rebounded from his scoreless performance Monday night with a 9-9-3 line. Three assists, while better than the 0 Anderson posted two games ago, still isn’t much for a player with such impressive court vision.
“I think he was more comfortable tonight,” head coach Ben Howland said of Muhammad. “We’re learning to play with Shabazz for the first time. We didn’t play with him all summer. Same thing in a game situation until just yesterday. It’s going to take some time, but I thought he did a great job.”
Added Anderson: “Shabazz cuts very hard. Bringing the ball up, I see his defender struggling with him to the basket. … It’s a pretty good connection between us.”
Freshman Jordan Adams did get left out in the cold. A decrease in looks wasn’t surprising with Shabazz taking a bigger chunk of the offense, but his 1-for-6 outing will probably prove to be anomalous.