PALO ALTO — This, in case anyone has forgotten, was what the buzz was all about.
UCLA’s freshmen were billed as capable of anything, short of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Those pesky expectations that came with the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class have been out of reach at times.
So the Bruins’ 88-80 victory over Stanford on Saturday afternoon was just a reminder of what was possible.
Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson combined for 63 of the Bruins’ points, taking out frustrations on a Cardinal team that approached defense like a suggestion. Allowed to be free-range freshmen, the three were able to bury a bad night against California and move the Bruins forward in a tightly packed Pac-12 Conference race.
“We came here to lead our team to the [NCAA] tournament and go far in the tournament,” said Muhammad, who had 25 points. “That’s what we have to do.”
The Bruins (19-7, 9-4 in conference play) won’t run into teams that play defense like Stanford in the tournament. The Cardinal (15-11, 6-7) was good medicine.
By the time the Bruins were done, memories of Thursday’s 76-63 loss to Cal had less bite. The group therapy session included a strong showing by UCLA fans, who turned Maples Pavilion into an auxiliary Pauley Pavilion, with “UCLA” chants getting louder and longer as the game progressed.
“They were louder than Pauley,” Muhammad said. “We needed this game. We couldn’t go down 0-2 on this road trip.”
The Bruins’ no-show performance at Cal dropped them out of a tie for first place. The Golden Bears showed everyone how to handle UCLA, applying defensive pressure and running double teams at Muhammad all game.
The Cardinal, apparently, didn’t get the memo, and the Bruins shot 54%.
“I think the way we bounced back was very mature of us,” said Anderson, who had 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. “We flushed that game at Cal, came back out here and stayed focused.”
Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins expected no less from the Bruins. He expected more from his team.
“You got to make UCLA a half-court team,” Dawkins said. “You can’t be running back and not turn your head around. Shabazz Muhammad is in a sprinter’s box. Jordan Adams is leaking out. They give up something in rebounding, but they get a lot in transition.”
Muhammad made nine of 14 shots, none bigger than a three-point basket with 1 minute 52 seconds left. He was fouled, with the free throw giving the Bruins a 79-71 lead.
He was thrilled to spend the day with less company.
“Those double-teams are hard,” Muhammad said. “I was able to come off picks today and get good shots. I could set my man up on every play.”
Others did as well.
Adams made seven of nine shots, finishing with 20 points. Anderson made six of 12 shots and had his seventh double-double.
“We executed our half-court offense, showed some patience,” Coach Ben Howland said.
That spawned from the Bruins in transition.
“It’s a momentum thing,” said point guard Larry Drew II, who had 14 points and seven assists. “When we get out and get some easy buckets, get six, eight points like that, no one is rushing when we get in the half-court set. Everyone is looking for each other, looking to make the extra pass.”
UCLA had 17 assists on 31 baskets.
Said Muhammad: “Everyone was unselfish tonight, and this is what happens.”