ESPN Player of The Week: Shabazz Muhammad
Published on Dec 29, 2012
Thanks, TheProfessor, for posting this on BZ.
UCLA's Jordan Adams (left) fights to control the ball against kevin Foster of the Fresno State Bulldogs at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday in Los Angeles. STEPHEN DUNN, GETTY IMAGES
COLUMNIST / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: Dec. 23, 2012 Updated: Dec. 24, 2012 12:13 a.m.
LOS ANGELES – At one fallow point in Saturday night's first half, the video board at Pauley Pavilion showed Lorenzo Mata-Real.
A surprising number of the 8,327 recognized him, and applauded beseechingly.
Mata-Real was a popular Bruin during the triple Final Four years. He was the pride of Huntington Park, representing a part of L.A. that isn't known for basketball, but mainly he could shift a ballgame without providing a point. He filled space, blocked shots, knocked opponents off rebounds, gave hard fouls.
The absence of those virtues shines like Shabazz Muhammad's lemon shoes. The presence of someone as real as Mata-Real could save this transitory season for UCLA.
As they showed in this 91-78 victory over Fresno State, the Bruins are fewer but prouder than they were in November.
Losing Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith has not only balanced the portions at the training table, it has allowed the remaining players to slip nicely into their slots.
Freshmen Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams combined for all but 19 of UCLA's points. Larry Drew II had 10 assists and one turnover, and his season totals are now 102 and 19, more efficient than any point guard Ben Howland could remember coaching.
David and Travis Wear have become support players, which suits them at this point, and Norman Powell is continuing his tempo-changing role off the bench. The unexplored resource is Tony Parker, a 270-pound freshman who, given time, will be a menacing post defender.
"We've got eight scholarship players now," Adams said. "I think we've come together a lot better in the last few weeks."
Whether that's enough to win the Pac-12 or even make the NCAA Tournament is the question that begins to get answered with the first "event game" in the renovated building, Friday night against Missouri.
For one thing, Fresno State left Pauley with the first evidence that it was actually a good offensive team. It shot 10 for 17 from 3-point land and 47.4 percent overall, and that's with zero fastbreak points. It came in shooting 37.8 percent.
"We really need to keep the ball in front of us a little better," Howland said. "We allowed a lot more penetration than we should, tonight. That's what we're going to emphasize Christmas night, in a practice that I'm looking forward to."
However, the Bruins are keeping their promise of playing 94-foot basketball when the takeaways come, the way they did when Kevin Love was perfecting the outlet pass.
And the freshmen are simply too good to be dismissed.
Muhammad is a natural basketball magnet who finds points like nickels on the street. And his hunger for scoring makes it simple for teammates, who know they can crash the boards when he gets possession. In 249 collegiate minutes, Muhammad has eight (8) assists. That's less than one assist per Seinfeld rerun.
Anderson compensates with a unique game that freezes opponents and belies his adolescent build. He had 20 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists against Fresno State.
"He'll get a triple-double before the year is out," said Howland, and he can also run the show when Drew exits. Even though Anderson was tirelessly compared to Magic Johnson as a high schooler, he is much more basic than his reputation (as was Magic). There are lots of freshly upholstered seats in Pauley that should be filled this winter if for no other reason than to watch Anderson.
But Adams, who shot 10 for 14 with seven rebounds, five assists, five steals and no turnovers Saturday, is the prize of the class so far, and with far less billing.
"He's a better player than I thought he was," Howland said.
He is a rugged, 6-foot-5 former Atlanta high school quarterback who already is fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring. Nothing about the college game has interrupted his stride, not from the moment he christened the building with 21 against Indiana State Nov. 9.
Adams laid 22 points on Georgetown, 23 on San Diego State, 18 on Texas. His Oak Hill Academy team went 44-0 last season. The hope was that Adams would be one member of this freshman class who would become a sophomore and let the NBA draft breeze by, but Howland has seen that hope disintegrate before.
"Oak Hill is pretty much like college so nothing was really new to me," Adams said. "That's why I got off to a good start.
"The hardest adjustment has been learning to play hard the whole game, play defense the whole game. Even tonight, they (Fresno State) were creeping back. We've learned it's gotta be all 40 minutes."
With three seniors and four NBA-aware freshmen out of the eight who play, UCLA's time isn't hanging.
Contact the writer: Mwhicker@OCRegister.com
|UCLA Coach Ben Howland complains to a referee during a game against Cal State Northridge. ( Stephen Dunn / Getty Images / November 28, 2012)|
UCLA's Tony Parker listens to questions from the media during a preseason news conference. A part of a celebrated freshmen class, Parker hasn't seen as minutes as expected this season. MIGUEL VASCONCELLOS, FOR ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER