UCLA beats Stanford, 68-60, for seventh win in a row

Trace the arc of UCLA’s season back to its horrible loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

That was the flash point, when the Bruins faithful called for Coach Ben Howland’s head on a platter, for massive lineup changes, for the whole foundation to be torn down and rebuilt.

It was Nov. 25. The season was six games old.

But since then, UCLA has played nine games and won eight, including seven in a row after Saturday’s 68-60 triumph over Stanford in front of 10,266 at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins (12-3, 2-0 in Pac-12 Conference play) opened league play by sweeping the Bay Area schools and showcasing the defense Howland has long tried to instill.

Against California on Thursday, UCLA held the Golden Bears to 40% shooting from the field; against Stanford, it held the Cardinal to 34%.

Its man-to-man defense is working.

“We’re really growing in that area,” Howland said.

The Bruins have also found not just a dependable scorer but a closer in Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half against Stanford to put another UCLA win on ice.

Teams have started to zero in on shutting down the freshman star, and the Cardinal (9-6, 0-2) slowed him in the first half, but Muhammad stayed patient.

“I don’t want to rush,” he said.

In the second half, Muhammad plowed toward the basket and pump faked defenders to draw fouls. He made 10 of 13 free throws; Stanford made nine of 16.

But the Cardinal, which was led by 17 points and 13 rebounds from forward Dwight Powell, played physical down low and turned 15 offensive rebounds into 22 second-chance points to keep the game within reach.

UCLA also helped keep it interesting. It had a 15-point lead with 6 minutes 32 seconds left, but then committed eight turnovers and missed a slew of shots as that lead was whittled to five points.

“We started relaxing,” Muhammad said after the Bruins finished with 14 turnovers, one more than they had in their previous two games combined.

A killer instinct, it seems, is one key aspect this UCLA team is lacking.

But the Bruins were able to hang on for what could only be called an ugly win.

“Any win is beautiful,” Howland said.

Muhammad finished with 10 rebounds a day after Howland challenged his effort in that area.

“I try to answer” any challenge, Muhammad said. “I’m such a competitive person, with everything.”

Jordan Adams recorded a career-high seven steals to go along with 12 points, but he missed four free throws, uncharacteristic for the sharpshooting guard.

Kyle Anderson had 12 rebounds, his sixth game with double figures in that area.

And the Wear twins, Travis and David, combined for 19 points, including the team’s first 15.

Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins waited 56 minutes after the game to speak with the media because he was meeting with his team, a length of time he called a personal best.

For UCLA, the Bruins are on a roll and picking up more steam after sweeping through a six-game homestand.

But, again, trace the season back to the San Luis Obispo loss.

“We’re such a different team from back then,” Muhammad said.

Said Anderson: “We bought into playing defense and a collective effort to help each other out.”

Now, the question remains: What kind of team will UCLA be going forward?

As of now, the Bruins’ future appears to be only one thing: Bright.