UCLA blows by Long Beach State, 89-70


Cold gusts tore through Westwood on Tuesday night. Street signs swayed. Trees draped in festive lights danced.

And UCLA basketball fans marched with hurried steps into Pauley Pavilion, clinging to thick jackets zipped up tight.

Winds of change?

Perhaps. The UCLA team that teetered early on seems to have drifted away, replaced by a squad that’s growing steadier and gaining confidence with each passing day.

“I sure hope so,” Coach Ben Howland said, smiling after his team’s second consecutive blow-out victory.

The latest evidence that these baby Bruins are trending upward was a breezy 89-70 victory over Long Beach State, which extended UCLA’s season-high winning streak to three games.

In front of 8,356, the Bruins (8-3) trailed 0-2 but led the rest of the way.

It wasn’t a flawless UCLA victory, though, as the 49ers (4-7) kept within striking distance until midway through the second half, cutting UCLA’s lead to seven points with 9 minutes 15 seconds left.

But then Shabazz Muhammad made a three-point shot and two free throws, and Jordan Adams made a three-point basket that Muhammad followed with one of his own.

The Bruins’ lead ballooned back to 15 points and the contest was decided.

“They really got hot, those two, and their teammates did a great job of feeding them,” Howland said.

Adams and Muhammad each surpassed the 20-point barrier — Adams had 24 points, Muhammad had 21 — to lead the Bruins, who shot 59% (33 for 56) from the field.

The tandem also provided a glimpse into what could become a potent one-two backcourt scoring punch for the Bruins.

But it was another player in the backcourt who drew the most praise from Howland: fifth-year senior guard Larry Drew II.

“That’s the best game of Larry Drew’s career at UCLA,” Howland said. “Fantastic at both ends.”

Drew scored 14 points on six-for-seven shooting, had nine assists, four rebounds, two steals and one turnover.

More important, Drew helped shut down point guard Mike Caffey, who came into the game averaging nearly 11 points, four rebounds and four assists.

UCLA’s coaching staff warned Drew about Caffey’s playmaking abilities.

Drew said UCLA assistant Scott Garson “let me know straight-up, ‘If we’re going to have any type of a chance in the game tomorrow, it starts with you on the defensive end.’ ”

Caffey finished with six points on two-for-10 shooting. He was buoyed by strong performances from Dan Jennings, who had a game-high 27 points on 13-for-15 shooting, and by James Ennis (20 points), but it wasn’t enough.

“That was a terrific defensive performance by [Drew],” Howland said. “He played his tail off.”

As did the rest of the Bruins, who are starting to right a ship that once seemed headed for an iceberg of disappointment.

Twitter: @BaxterHolmes