Shabazz Muhammad impresses in debut; UCLA doesn’t in loss to Hoyas
NEW YORK — His first shot, of the stop-and-pop variety, arced over the outstretched fingertips of defenders invading his personal space, and then splashed through the Brooklyn net.
The scoreboard added a pair to UCLA’s total, and freshman Shabazz Muhammad ran back to play defense, having finally tallied the first points of his college career.
But his long-awaited debut Monday — delayed three games because the NCAA sat him out for violating its rules before it reinstated him Friday — didn’t end in storybook fashion.
The No. 11 Bruins lost to unranked Georgetown, 78-70, in a semifinal of the Legends Classic tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
UCLA (3-1) will play Georgia (1-3), which lost its semifinal against No. 1 Indiana, at 4:30 p.m. PST Tuesday at Barclays. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
“I wanted to get a shot at them,” Muhammad said of Indiana, which UCLA would have faced had it won. “But we know we really aren’t ready yet.”
As for the highly rated swingman, the 6-foot-6 Muhammad finished with 15 points, 11 in the second half, on five-for-10 shooting in 25 minutes.
“I can get a lot better,” he said. “I didn’t think I played really well tonight.”
The heavily pro-Georgetown crowd of 10,071 at the new arena rained scattered boos on Muhammad when he checked into the game with 14 minutes 12 seconds to play in the first half. He made his first shot less than a minute later.
But it was clear that Muhammad is not in game-shape . . . that jelling with his teammates on the court will be a process . . . that everyone settling into their roles will be a project . . . and that, given the Bruins’ youth and inexperience, this will take time.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland said Muhammad did a good job considering he hadn’t played in a while. “He’s got a lot of work to put in conditioning-wise to catch up.”
But near the end, after falling into a double-digit hole, UCLA found a slice of rhythm. Facing a zone defense, Howland put Kyle Anderson at the high post on offense, and the 6-9 freshman zipped the ball around to teammates, including Muhammad, for easy baskets.
UCLA cut Georgetown’s lead, but never to fewer than four. The Hoyas (3-0), who face Indiana on Tuesday, were led by Markel Starks’ 23 points, and Otto Porter totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals.
“And then there’s a whole lot of other stuff he did that isn’t on this piece of paper,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said, looking at the box score.
Still, Muhammad was encouraged by what he saw during that late stretch of success.
“We’re going to practice and really get this together and we’re going to really be a good team,” he said.
Freshman guard Jordan Adams finished with 22 points — his fourth straight game of 20 or more to start his career — and Travis Wear scored 12.
Anderson didn’t score, but he did have seven rebounds and six assists.
UCLA led by four early, but Georgetown switched to the zone. The Bruins crumbled, with empty, almost hopeless offensive possessions. It wasn’t until Anderson moved to the high post late that they could muster points against that scheme.
“They’re still meshing,” Thompson said of UCLA. “They’re still coming together.”
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