Stanford (12-5, 3-2) at UCLA (14-4, 3-2)
When: Thursday, 8 p.m., Pauley Pavilion TV: Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson, Don MacLean, Yogi Roth) Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)
No. 1: Pace. UCLA’s halfcourt offense has been a work in progress all season, as both coach Steve Alford and his players have acknowledged at one point or another. The Bruins like to run, but despite chucking up 129 shots in their last two games, converted on just over 40 percent of them. The sharp drop from their season-long average (50.2 percent) may be due to opposing playbooks as much as the their own execution; freshman guard Zach LaVine said this week that more teams were trying to limit UCLA’s transition opportunities. Continue reading →
Two days after UCLA won an outright Pac-12 title, Shabazz Muhammad became the eighth player in program history to win Pac-12 Freshman of the Year — sharing the honor with Arizona point guard Jahii Carson.
The star swingman, who ranked third in the Pac-12 with 18.3 points per game, is the first Bruin to win since Kevin Love in 2008. Muhammad also made the 10-man all-conference first team with senior point guard Larry Drew II, while freshman point forward Kyle Anderson was a second-team selection.
Muhammad and Drew both generated some talk for the conference’s Player of the Year Award, but that went to Cal guard Allen Crabbe. Oregon’s Dana Altman won Coach of the Year, and had his Ducks positioned for a conference title before losing the last two games of the season.
Muhammad and Anderson also made the All-Pac-12 Freshman team, but guard Jordan Adams missed the cut for the five-man list. He averaged 15.2 points per game, eighth best in the conference, and was an honorable mention for receiving at least three votes.
The Bruins slugged their way to another low-scoring game in the Pac-12’s opening weekend, combining with Stanford to shoot just 31.4 percent in the first half.
Even when it should have coasted to victory with a double-digit lead, UCLA left the door open with four straight missed free throws. It took a boneheaded decision by Stanford to call a non-existent timeout to truly seal the win.
“Any win is beautiful,” Ben Howland said afterward.
Except that isn’t the case anymore. The embarrassing Cal Poly loss in November involved a team that looks nothing like the one that now calls Pauley Pavilion home. This current incarnation of UCLA basketball has improved to the point where just getting a win isn’t enough. Young talent is gelling and, when the transition game works in peak form, the Bruins look like a team that could knock off a couple of teams in March. Continue reading →
Stanford’s loss to USC Thursday night ended on a missed dunk. Blowing a 9-point halftime lead against a team that went 5-24 in the past calendar year already hurts enough. Losing 71-69 when Dwight Powell had a chance to force overtime on a putback — well, that provides plenty of motivation not to screw up the next game.
UCLA is on a six-game winning streak and brimming with confidence, so it should be able to dispatch an unimpressive Cardinal squad at noon Saturday (Pac-12 Networks, AM-570). The Bruins’ youth might hurt them on the quick turnaround, but they have enough firepower to overcome a slow start, especially at home.
At a glance: Stanford isn’t a good shooting team on paper, ranking dead last in the conference with a 40.7 percentage from the field. It doesn’t help that their stats are dragged down significantly by sophomore guard Chasson Randle’s underwhelming season. Last year, the all-conference freshman took 5.2 threes per game and made 43.8 percent of them. That number is down to 21.9, but Randle still ranks eighth in the Pac-12 with 64 3-point attempts, just ahead of conference-leading scorer Allen Crabbe.