It’s been a relatively eventful first couple of months of the college basketball season for the UCLA Bruins. After finding themselves 5-3 and looking like they were facing another disappointing season nearly a month ago, UCLA has reeled off six straight wins, non bigger than the last two.
Over the past few weeks UCLA’s almost looked like a completely different team than they were at the beginning of the season, and it’s because they’ve taken on the identity of their two best players, freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Muhammad has looked every bit the superstar he was billed as over his last two years playing high school ball in Las Vegas, while Anderson has been the do-it-all guard/forward leading the team in rebounds (8.7 per game) and averaging the second most assists per game on the team.
After missing the first three games of the season, Muhammad has averaged 19.3 points per game and even earned National Player of the Week honors by the United States Basketball Writers Association. After scoring 20+ points in just one of his first six games, the 6-foot-6 manchild has gone for 20 or more in four of the last five games his team has played in, and on top of averaging 4.7 rebounds per game, has made steady improvement on his defense.
“I’ve been really practicing my defense,” Muhammad said after the win over California, in which the Bruins came up with 8 steals and 5 blocks. “People think I can’t. I can play defense, I know I can. That was the one thing that was a hole in my game. That’s why I came here, to improve my defense, and it really shows.”
Anderson, being the leader that he’s proven to be, echoed his fellow freshman’s sentiments after the win. “We got some stops and were able to score on the other end. When somebody gets beat off the ball, someone is there to help.”
The Fairview, New Jersey stud played point guard in high school, at an incredibly high level, but with his size and athleticism has been asked to play all over the court for a Bruins team that’s shuffled lineups to say the least. Former highly touted recruit, Josh Smith, transferred to Georgetown after playing the first six games of the season for Ben Howland’s group, and while the 6-10 300 pounder didn’t make much of an impact, his big body literally left a void in the middle of the Bruins lineup, which Anderson’s done his best to make up for.
“Number one, he has great hands,” said UCLA Coach Ben Howland during an interview with the LA Times on Friday. “He’s got strong hands, soft hands. He’s long; he has a nose for the ball. He has a good understanding of being able to anticipate where the ball’s going to come off.”
“Rebounding is a form of playing hard,” says the 6-foot-9 Anderson. “So, in order to play hard, you’ve got to get on the glass.”
These two freshmen are most definitely playing hard, and the results are showing. UCLA hosts Stanford on Saturday afternoon.
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