UCLA rode into Maples Pavilion on Saturday afternoon with the Pac-12’s highest scoring offense, and Stanford’s defense was barely even a speed bump in the 88-80 loss.
Freshman point guard Shabazz Muhammad, the conference’s third-leading scorer, finished with a game high 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting for the Bruins. The freshman standout made it clear that he has special, game-changing talent while Stanford’s late game floundering made it apparent that it still missing that type of player.
With 1:52 left and the game still within reach, Muhammad converted a four-point play to stretch the lead to eight. He finished a layup on the next possession to essentially ice the game, and Stanford was left yet again to mull over a close loss to a quality opponent.
“He made big shots at big times, and that’s what a big-time player is able to do,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins.
Much of the game went according to UCLA’s script. The Bruins shot 54.4 percent from the field while playing at the fast pace they prefer. None of their top players were held under control either.
The Bruins’ second-leading scorer on the season, freshman guard Jordan Adams, finished with 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Third-leading scorer freshman guard Kyle Anderson netted 18 to go along with 13 rebounds.
Dawkins said after the game that he had not seen UCLA shoot that well all season.
“I’m not disappointed in my team or their effort one bit, he said. “I just think we ran across a team that had a buzzsaw mentality in terms of shooting the basketball.”
Senior point guard Larry Drew II created a lot of problems for the Stanford defense as well, especially with high ball screens that ended with him blowing by a Cardinal big man. Drew finished with seven assists, almost equaling Stanford’s total of nine for the game.
Despite scoring 80 points, Stanford had to work a lot harder to keep pace. The Card took 78 shots in the game (making only 30 of them) compared to 57 by UCLA.
“We still managed to claw, fight to get 80, so then it just becomes a matter of ‘can you stop somebody,’ and we just didn’t make the stops tonight,” Dawkins said.
Still, Stanford kept the game close until the final minutes, trailing by as little as one with just over six minutes left.
There were several big-time performances by Stanford players that kept the Bruins within reach. The efficiency was not there though, and neither were late-game heroics.
Junior forward Dwight Powell had 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. Junior forward Josh Huestis had a double-double — his fourth in the past five games — with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Stanford’s starting guard tandem surpassed their scoring averages. Junior Aaron Bright had 19 points while sophomore Chasson Randle had 17.
But every Stanford player shot under 50 percent, except for Bright, who was 8-of-16. The Cardinal futility from behind the arc, where it shot 5-23, did most of the damage in dragging those percentages down. The reliance on and the inability to make three-point shots also allowed UCLA to grab long rebounds and push the tempo.
The Cardinal’s 18 offensive rebounds, nine of which came from Huestis, made up for a lot of those misses.
UCLA led by as many as 10 early on, but despite sitting Huestis down for most of the first half after he picked up his second foul, the Cardinal found itself within reach at 38-43 going into the half.
With Stanford still down by five points midway through the second half, Bright slashed to the rim and swirled in a reverse layup. After a rare defensive stop, Bright hurried the ball down the court, pulled up a few feet behind the arc and swished a three-pointer to tie the game.
UCLA called an immediate timeout to stem the momentum and proceeded to score on the next play.
A few minutes later, a leading pass from Bright set up a strong layup by senior forward Andy Brown in transition that cut the deficit to 65-66. Muhammad coolly answered with a mid-range jump shot, and after an empty possession from Stanford, the Bruins scored again to create some breathing room.
Soon thereafter, Muhammad watched from the ground as his three-pointer splashed through the net and the sound of the referee’s whistle rang through the air.
Contact David Perez Bradford at davidp3 “at” stanford.edu.