Bruins finally arrive
There were two clutch drives Thursday.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland almost busted a button saying how proud he was of those who pulled them off.
There was Larry Drew II, who slipped to the hoop for a one-handed scoop shot that clinched the Bruins’ 57-53 Pac-12 victory over Utah.
There was UCLA’s bus driver, who slipped, and slid, on the road getting the Bruins through a blizzard so they could pick up their eighth consecutive victory.
“Our bus driver did a great job,” Howland said. “At one point, our back wheels were sidewinding a little bit. The car on the right was doing the same thing. He gunned right through it. I was so proud of him, great job he did getting here.”
This was UCLA’s first road game this season and the beginning of this life wandering the Pac-12, something veteran Bruins players tried to explain to the team’s four freshmen this week.
The blizzard hit at 4 p.m. The Bruins managed to get to the Huntsman Center with about an hour to spare.
Shabazz Muhammad looked like a freshman, scoring only six points.
“You never know what is going to happen on the road,” freshman guard Kyle Anderson said.
The slipping and sliding extended into the game. UCLA (13-3 overall, 3-0 in conference play) built a 13-point first-half lead, and led by as many as 12 in the second half. The Bruins then had to endure the final three minutes as Utah (8-7, 0-3) scratched back.
The Utes, trailing, 55-53, missed four shots on one possession, two wide-open looks by Glen Dean on three-pointers. Dean missed another three on the Utes’ next possession and the game was put into Drew’s hands.
He dribbled the ball, then burst to the hoop past 6-foot-10 Jason Washburn for the clinching basket with nine seconds left.
“I was just waiting for the time to run down,” Drew said.
It ended an uneven game happily for the Bruins, who are 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2008-09.
Things were dicey before getting to the arena.
“At one point, I wasn’t sure we were going to get here,” Drew said. “We were in traffic and the bus driver started hitting back streets and side streets.”
UCLA walked in and started hitting shots. Anderson had nine of the Bruins’ first 12 points. They closed the half with a 16-5 run for a 34-23 lead.
Still, there was a noticeable difference from the way UCLA played during the winning streak.
The Bruins pushed the tempo, but it was clear that their thoroughbred ways were not working and they finished the night in plow-horse style.
“When you take quick shots ... in a game like this, you end up playing defense 23 minutes,” Howland said. “At the end of the game, you get a little wobbly because it’s harder to play defense than offense.”
Muhammad, the conference’s second-leading scorer, made only three of 13 shots and his six points were 13 below his average. He had some company among the freshmen as the second half lapsed into elbow-grease efforts.
Anderson had only two points after the first six minutes. He missed a layup on a fastbreak with six minutes left. Jordan Adams had 12 points, six during 10-1 run that broke an 18-18 tie. But he missed two jumpers in the last four minutes.
“When you’re freshmen, you’re learning a lot of stuff for the first time,” Howland said.
What they learned Thursday was, “It’s good to grind out a victory,” Howland said.