Parker looks to shine against Sun Devils

Opportunity is knocking for Tony Parker.

At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Parker is UCLA’s lone true big man — an asset that, if developed, would solve one of the Bruins’ most glaring woes. He’s yet to become that frontcourt salve, a combination of poor health and inconsistent play keeping him off the floor.

That changed a bit Sunday, as he pick-and-rolled his way to eight first-half points in a 75-59 win at USC. When UCLA tips off against Arizona State at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, the freshman will get another chance to earn minutes.

“It’s just teaching him to play with physicality,” coach Ben Howland said. “He’s got a great lower body. He’s got good strength. He’s got good hands.”

The downsides? His defense, while improving, isn’t where it should be. He dribbles too often in the low post, giving opposing defenders a chance to block his shot. Continue reading

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Muhammad’s vision improving after pink eye

Shabazz Muhammad’s eye is finally opening up again after swelling up with pink eye last week. The freshman swingman shot just 2 of 7 from the field at USC on Sunday, and said his condition was a factor.

“It seemed unproportionate,” Muhammad said of his vision. “Couldn’t really see out of my right eye. But it’s really open now, so I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

UCLA’s leading scorer will be getting a set of prescription goggles soon to wear in practice, but he plans to wear contacts in games. He has never worn goggles during basketball before and said he doesn’t want to risk it affecting his play.

Muhammad was also named Tuesday to the midseason top-30 list for the Naismith Award, given annually to the nation’s top player. Cal guard Allen Crabbe was the only other Pac-12 player to make the cut.

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UCLA 75, USC 59: Notes and quotes

UCLA’s comfortable win over USC kept its Pac-12 title hopes alive. The Bruins sit just a half-game back of Arizona and Oregon for the conference lead, and will play the Wildcats again at home on Saturday. Pauley Pavilion will host ESPN’s College GameDay as a lead-up, with doors opening at 5 a.m.

Here are some notes from the Galen Center. Continue reading

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Bruins cutting down playbook

Ben Howland, long known for his methodical halfcourt offenses, said he once used as many as 45 different sets.

In Saturday’s win at Stanford, the UCLA coach cut that number down to nine. After using around 18 to 20 for most of the season, he wanted to simplify the playbook even further for his young team coming off a quick turnaround.

Two days earlier, the Bruins had shot just 30.3 percent in the first half 76-63 loss at Cal. Against the Cardinal, UCLA shot 54.4 percent from the field.

“It’s all about execution and reading,” Howland said. “You have different reads: ‘If he trails me, I’m going to curl. If he goes ball side screen, I’m going to fade. If he fades, I have to shorten the pass. If he goes underneath, I have to re-screen.’” Continue reading

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Cal 76, UCLA 63

UCLA basketball is clearly set on one task: to make choosing its worst game as hard as possible.

The Bruins’ 76-63 loss at Cal probably doesn’t beat out their early-season faceplant to Cal Poly, but it belongs in the conversation. UCLA was unsightly through the first half, going without a free throw and — until the final minutes of the period — nearly being outscored by the Bears’ star swingman Allen Crabbe. Before the break, the Bruins shot a hair above 30 percent and trailed by as much as 28.

Ben Howland and his players constantly acknowledge that they need to hit the boards harder, hold their blockouts longer. Rarely is an explanation given other than lack of effort or focus. Yet, UCLA was abused on the glass by forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish — both wiry specimens who aren’t listed above 235 pounds. The pair combined for 21 rebounds and 35 points, with Kravish scoring a career-high 18.

Cal finished with a 41-33 edge on the boards, the sixth time in seven games that UCLA has trailed by at least eight rebounds. The Bears, who entered the game relying on Crabbe and point guard Justin Cobbs for over 50 percent of their scoring output, dominated the Bruins with 46-20 points in the paint. Continue reading

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UCLA at Cal: What to Watch

UCLA (18-5, 8-3) at Cal (14-9, 6-5)
Tipoff: 6 p.m., Haas Pavilion
TV/Radio: ESPN2/AM 570

At a glance: The last time UCLA saw Cal, the Bears were inking a slot in the NIT. Mike Montgomery’s team arrived at Pauley Pavilion three days into the new year, and proceeded to miss all 13 of its 3-point shots. Combined with another 0-fer performance against Harvard a week prior, Cal left Westwood with an ignominious streak of 19 long-range misses and a 79-65.

The Bears are looking better as of late, having knocked off both Oregon and Arizona in their past three games. Taking down top-10 teams isn’t a bad way to get your first two wins of the season against top-100 RPI opponents, and in doing so, Cal has managed to inject some faint NCAA tournament hopes into a season that was looking like the worst of Montgomery’s five-year tenure.

“His teams have always improved throughout the year and this team’s no exception,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said of Montgomery.

Added UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad: “They’re looking really good. We played them down here and they didn’t play as well. We didn’t play as well either. We’re really going to be ready for them.” Continue reading

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UCLA 76, Washington State 62: Quotes and notes

The final score was 76-62, but UCLA’s win over Washington State felt far more out of reach than the final tally. It was likely the Bruins’ easiest win since beating Long Beach State 89-70 on Dec. 18. Washington State came out firing and made five straight 3-pointers to open the game, but over nine minutes without a field goal at Pauley Pavilion. In that span, the home team opened up a opened up a 15-point lead that never fell into single digits.

UCLA shot at least 60 percent from the field for the first time since Feb. 18, 2010 — another win over Washington State — and above 50 percent for the first time at home this season against a conference opponent.

Despite that embarrassing loss to USC last week, the team still sits just one game out of first place in the Pac-12.

– Facing a team that tried to slow the pace of the game, UCLA ended up with its highest assist total since defeating Fresno State in December. The Bruins notched 22 assists on 31 field goals, generating much better looks at the basket than the forced shots that went up against Washington on Thursday night. Continue reading

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UCLA vs. WSU: Halftime update

Looks like the UCLA offense may have finally woken up.

After three straight games shooting below 40 percent, the Bruins are humming along against Washington State. A 39-24 halftime lead almost feels too narrow given how terrible the Cougars looked through the first 20 minutes, which saw them go without a field goal for over nine minutes. WSU opened the game with three straight 3-pointers, but ended up shooting just 34.8 percent in the first half.

UCLA has also forced two shot clock violations, scoring 11 points off Washington State’s 11 turnovers. The Bruins are shooting 58.6 percent from the field, have assisted on all but three of their 17 baskets, and hold a 20-4 scoring edge in the paint. Meanwhile, Cougars center Brock Motum — the team’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game — has four points on 1-of-6 shooting.

Shabazz Muhammad has a game-high 12 points, as well as two rebounds and two assists.

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Should Shabazz have celebrated more?

Larry Drew II made a buzzer-beater to beat Washington last night, his second game-winner of the season. Most of his teammates mobbed him. Shabazz Muhammad, who openly clamored for the ball, did not.

“Yeah, I wanted the ball,” Muhammad explained last night. “But Larry is such an aggressive player. When the ball went up, I knew it was going to be good. Everyone was on him and attacking him. I was like, I know Larry is going to have something broken or he’s going to have some scratches. I was going to wait until he got up to congratulate him.”

Head coach Ben Howland agreed today with Muhammad’s concern about potential injuries, and said the star was very happy for Drew: “I think it was overblown. I really do. I think it’s, y’know, another thing that gets blown out of proportion.”

Maybe, but how often do you see players not celebrate a buzzer-beater?

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UCLA trio makes Freshman of the Year watchlist

Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson all landed on the midseason watchlist for the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award — a 12-man group selected by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. The news isn’t a huge surprise given that the trio accounts for 52.7 percent of UCLA’s scoring and 45 percent of its rebounding.

Here’s the complete list in alphabetical order: Continue reading

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