The Bruins’ blowout win Tuesday night might have been their most impressive of the year. Long Beach State will be markedly better once it gets Keala King and Tony Freeland, but pounding the 49ers is a much heftier addition to the resume than doing the same to Cal State Northridge or Prairie View A&M.
LBSU has yet do much of note after losing four starters from an NCAA Tournament team, but it could very well end up winning its third straight Big West regular-season title. Considering that UCLA lost to Cal Poly and nearly lost to UC Irvine, it’s clear the Bruins are trending up.
Shabazz has arrived: The nation’s No. 1 recruit is finally rounding into shape. He showed off a glimpse of his post-diet abilities against Prairie View A&M, but doing the same against the 49ers is much more encouraging. Muhammad clearly has the ability to score in bunches: on Tuesday night, he did so from long range (2 of 4 on threes) and hard drives to the basket (5 of 6 from the free throw line). He forms a potent duo with Jordan Adams, who led the team with 24 points.
Larry Drew’s defense: Ben Howland couldn’t stop gushing about Larry Drew after the game, saying the point guard had played his best game yet for UCLA. Drew had an efficient offensive performance, scoring 14 points and missing just one shot, but it was his defense that stood out to his coach. Howland said Monday that he wasn’t quite satisfied with how his lone senior had played on that end of the court, but has the potential to be much better. (He also added that Drew was the team’s fastest player since Darren Collison and “maybe” Russell Westbrook. That might be a tad optimistic.)
That changed against the 49ers, as Drew helped hold LBSU point guard Mike Caffey to 2 of 10 from the field.
“He did today,” Howland said. “Boy, I tell you what. That was really exciting. That was the most exciting thing. When he is playing like that defensively, it makes everybody’s job easier. … He played his tail off.”
Drew said the coaching staff had hounded him about his defense leading up to the game, and he responded accordingly — albeit against a player that shot below 30 percent entering the game. In a conference filled with plenty of scoring point guards, he needs to prove that he can lock down on a nightly basis.
Soft underbelly: 6-foot-9 forward Dan Jennings abused the Bruins inside, scoring 27 points and missing just two of his 15 attempts from the field. The West Virginia transfer was benched with four fouls about 12 minutes into the second half, and the Bruins took advantage and reeled off a big run.
The Wears are fairly feeble on that end, and Tony Parker is committing an insane 9.7 fouls per 40 minutes. If UCLA runs into any other skilled big men, Howland plans to send help from the perimeter — which he admitted wouldn’t work well if the team also had good shooters.
“We’re going to have to double the post a lot,” Howland said. “He’s 255. You give up that kind of size, you’ve got to scheme to it. … We’re going to hopefully start improving on that.”