NEW YORK — There’s a transition phase for new players, a period of acclimation.
But Shabazz Muhammad might just speed through that process, just as he might speed through his college career and bolt to the NBA after his freshman season.
It took all of two games for the talented UCLA swingman to transition from a player who’s just trying to familiarize himself to a player who could rescue his team from a loss.
The highly rated Muhammad scored a game-high 21 points to carry the No. 11 Bruins past Georgia, 60-56, Tuesday in the consolation game of the Legends Classic tournament at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
At the end, the Bruins (4-1) escaped this concrete jungle with a win that will ease the sting of Monday’s loss to Georgetown and make the plane ride back to the land of milk and sunny more bearable.
But the Bruins also received a glimpse of their future with Muhammad.
“We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
Unlike in his first game, Muhammad, who became eligible to play Friday after missing UCLA’s first three games, was not tentative.
Instead, he called for the ball, created plays when opportunities weren’t apparent, scored points when his team starved for them, and led late, when the score was tight.
“I was getting more comfortable out there,” Muhammad said, later adding he played more aggressively to help fill in for David Wear, who sat out the game because of a sore back.
Muhammad made three free throws, grabbed a key rebound and recorded a steal in the final 1 minute 15 seconds, when UCLA’s lead grew from two points to the final margin of four.
The ultimate difference in the game: UCLA made 20 of 30 free throws, and Georgia made six of 10.
Muhammad made eight of 11 from the free-throw line.
Georgia Coach Mark Fox gave a long, awkward pause and rapped his fingers against a table when asked about Muhammad’s performance. Finally, Fox uttered, with some difficulty, “He had 21 points, that’s a pretty good night.”
Kyle Anderson had nine points and nine rebounds and Travis Wear added 10 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Adams scored four points, his first game with fewer than 20.
UCLA’s man-to-man defense struggled to slow Georgia (1-4), which was led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had 16 points.
So, Howland made a rare move, one he finds distasteful: He switched to a zone defense.
“The zone was critical for us to get back into the game,” Howland said.
And Muhammad, who made six of his 12 shots, kept his team in it.
He got open running off screens, noticed mismatches when he was sized up against smaller players in the post or larger, slower players guarding him on the wing.
“I just tried to take advantage of that,” Muhammad said, “and it went well for me.”
UCLA has signed three high school players to national letters of intent during the early signing period, the school confirmed Tuesday.
They are Allerick Freeman, a 6-4 guard from Findlay Prep in Nevada, Zach LaVine, a 6-3 combo guard from Bothell High in Washington, and Noah Allen, a 6-6 forward from Palma High in Salinas.