The most encouraging part of UCLA’s runaway win over Prairie View was Shabazz Muhammad’s best performance of the season.
No, the competition wasn’t top-notch, even if head coach Ben Howland tried to talk up how worried he was about this game. But by both the eye test and the box score, Muhammad looked like a different player than he has most of the season. His 25 points and four assists were both career highs, the latter doubling his season total. (Stunning that Shabazz only had four assists on the season before Saturday. His ability to create was one of his weaknesses coming out of high school, but four?)
“I’m starting to get a lot more confident. … I’m feeling real comfortable with my game,” he said.
On defense, the Bruins man defense worked OK as UCLA allowed just 29.4 percent shooting in the first half. The caveat is that the Panthers entered the game averaging 26.9 percent from beyond the arc and 44.2 percent inside — both figures that rank well outside 250 in the country.
UCLA also had its best blocking performance this year, mostly on tips rather than full-on swats. The team also had nine blocks against CSUN this year, but Northridge took 10 fewer 3-pointers. Blocks don’t usually come that far away from the basket unless you have Anthony Davis; when you take out attempts from downtown when factoring in blocks, UCLA tipped away nine of Prairie View’s 35 two-point attempts — more than a quarter.
“I never thought we would give up on being a (good) defensive team,” Kyle Anderson said. “We’re a bunch of mentally tough kids. Collectively, we had to work on it. That’s what we did.”
The Bruins are hardly back on top of the conference, especially not on a night when No. 8 Arizona knocked off fifth-ranked Florida, but rolling over Prairie View was still a step in the right direction. Granted, how large a step still isn’t clear.