For the first time this season, UCLA can credit a win to its defense. Cal shot below 40 percent, and its top two scorers were held to an abysmal first-half outing that created too deep a hole.
“It means a lot,” Shabazz Muhammad said. “We’re an offensive team. … It really sets our team up for a good outing in the Pac-12.”
Ben Howland said earlier this week that the Bruins’ defense was “horrible” five or six weeks ago — something that no longer looks to be the case after the Pac-12 opener. During its winning streak, UCLA also held both Texas and Prairie View A&M to below 40 percent, but the former was unspeakably sloppy while the latter was barely a Division-I caliber team. (The Bruins’ 3-point defense had been particularly abysmal.)
UCLA forced Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe into a combined 5-of-18 start, and blanked the Bears from the 3-point line. It was the time the Bruins had held an opposing team without a 3-point field goal since April 1, 2006 — when they beat LSU in the Final Four. (Those Tigers took six attempts while Cal took 13.)
That it was Cal’s second straight game without a 3-pointer dulls the accomplishment, the Bruins’ defensive ceiling still seems to be inching up.
Key players: Kyle Anderson had one of his best offensive showings of the year, logging is fourth double-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. He led the team in scoring for the first time, and was also perfect on nine free throws. He had entered the game shooting 65.3 percent from the line.
But Norman Powell needs to get credit for blanketing Crabbe in the first half. Howland has long called the sophomore guard the team’s best man defender, and it showed Thursday night as he pestered the conference’s leading scorer into missing seven of nine shots. Crabbe, who finished with a game-high 21 points, didn’t really hit his offensive stride until Powell was resting.
“His defense was absolutely unbelievable in that first half,” Howland said. “He was great defensively. … Norman had one of his best games of his career here. A lot of what he did doesn’t show up in stats.”
Muhammad also played well on Crabbe, and said he’s been working to correct that hole in his game: “I know I can play defense. People say I can’t.”
Shabazz in the clutch: Muhammad hit just one of his seven shots in the first half and often looked frustrated sitting on the bench. Still, he turned his game up near the end, drilling a 3-pointer at 4:11 that extended UCLA’s lead to 11. Not quite as dramatic a performance as his two big shots in overtime against Missouri, but still one that helped keep Cal at bay.
“I love shooting those shots,” Muhammad said. “If I miss, I have to deal with the consequences. I love shooting those shots. If you feel confident, you’re gonna knock it down and that’s what I did tonight.”
Added Howland: “The guy has ice water in his veins. He wants the ball.”
Tony Parker update: The freshman was bothered again by back spasms, but played well in his (very) brief appearance against Cal. In his two minutes of playing time, he stood firm at the top of the key to stop one of Cobbs’ drives, and then set a screen on the guard at the other end. He also got layup off a nice dish from Jordan Adams, and hustled for a pair of rebounds. He likely got the most cheers per minute of anyone Thursday night.