Here’s the new UCLA: Offense first, defense second. Freshmen hitting big shots and making big plays regularly. Mentally tough and assertive. Taking the No. 7 team in the country into overtime and defeating them for the most impressive win in the new Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins didn’t just shock fans and a national audience alike. They sent a statement that may have completed a full 180-degree turn from who they were a month ago.
The biggest problem earlier this season was that the Bruins looked boring as Ben Howland tried to mold this team in his image. They lost games because they couldn’t compete with more complete teams or guard anybody. Howland was more loyal to his seniors David and Travis Wear than allowing his freshmen to be themselves.
The Wear twins were a key boost against Missouri, combining for 38 points and 15 rebounds, but it’s clear by now this team belongs to the freshmen. Jordan Adams scored the game-tying basket in regulation, his second clutch performance after hitting two late free throws against UC Irvine. Shabazz Muhammad‘s 3-pointer with 1:01 left, the final of his career-high tying 27 points, came on a pass from fellow freshman Kyle Anderson and gave UCLA the lead for good.
Give credit to Howland for finally adjusting to his personnel. I’ve criticized him for being too rigid and unyielding but he has wisely yielded to allow his team to be more open on the floor. True they gave up a SEC-record 19 assists to Phil Pressey and allowed Missouri to shoot 47.5 % from the field. Yet the Bruins also forced 17 turnovers and looked more composed at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime.
Will this new system work all the time? No. But it worked Friday night and it should boost the confidence of a young team looking to reestablish itself. This is the type of game they would’ve lost earlier in the season. But those days might be gone and as Pac-12 play starts next week, these new-look Bruins are finally starting to resemble the team we all thought they’d be.