Through much of the first half, the UCLA Bruins looked sluggish and confused, unable to penetrate the stout Fresno State defense, which had not allowed more than 69 points in any game this season coming into tonight. The Bruins looked sloppy, turning the ball over 6 times and making poor decisions on offense. The Bulldogs consequently were knocking down three-pointers galore, hitting 5 of their first 8, shocking for a team ranked 324th in the nation in total offense, en route to a 31-23 lead with 5 minutes to go in the first half.
Yet after that point, it was all Bruins. The Bruins finished the first half on a 16-5 run, and never looked back, taking control early in the 2nd half and thriving offensively for a convincing 91-78 win. The Bruins shot 58% on the night, and racked up 24 assists on 36 field goals, with Larry Drew II, LDII as he now known throughout Pauley Pavilion, leading the way with 10 dimes. Drew has now dished out 101 assists this season compared with only 19 turnovers, an impressive ratio of 5.3:1.
The real story tonight though was the spectacular play of the Bruins’ big three freshmen recruits. Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson each scored at least 20 points, the first time three freshmen have scored 20 each in UCLA history. Jordan Adams shot lights out from the field (10-14), accounting for 25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a career high 5 steals.
Shabazz Muhammad displayed the entire offensive arsenal tonight vs. Fresno State, beating the Bulldogs both inside and outside, with a very impressive mid-range game mixed in. He finished with a career high 27 points on 11-19 shooting, to go along with 7 rebounds himself.
Kyle Anderson though was surely the brightest star of all tonight. Anderson tallied career highs in both points and rebounds tonight, totaling 20 points and 17 rebounds, to go along with 7 assists, falling just short of a triple double. Though as coach Ben Howland put it, “It’s only a matter of time before Kyle [Anderson] gets a triple double”, which would be the first by a UCLA player since the 1995-96 season. He also showed an improved defensive tenacity, amassing 3 steals and 2 blocks in his 31 minutes of play.
Tonight was the type of game that the UCLA coaching staff and Bruins fans had envisioned when all three of these freshmen committed to play at UCLA, and really gives a spectacular glimpse into how dangerous this team can be moving forward. The road gets much tougher in a hurry for the Bruins, who will be hosting #12 Missouri this Friday, who notched an impressive 82-73 win over previously undefeated #10 Illinois earlier today.
UCLA will undoubtedly need to step up defensively against the Tigers, led by dynamic junior point guard Phil Pressey. The battle between Pressey and Larry Drew II, two of the nation’s best passing point guards, will be fun to watch and could very well be the determining factor in Friday’s outcome.
Until then though, it’s time for the Bruins, and their dedicated fans, to take a nice break and have a wonderful Christmas holiday.
- Ben Caplan (Cali Swag/All About Sports)