A month ago, if you told me that UCLA would have a seven-game winning streak, I’d say you were crazy. If you also told me that Ben Howland would trust his freshmen more and back off his stubbornness, I’d call you even crazier.
Yet, here we are. A week into Pac-12 play and UCLA has continued to show why they were a preseason darling. California was a cakewalk after a strong second half performance and Stanford didn’t have a chance after Shabazz Muhammad posted his second double-double of the season.
UCLA’s dramatic turnaround from failed season to optimism can be traced back to Dec. 1. That’s when they looked lost against San Diego State in defeat and the chorus for Howland’s job was as loud as ever. After surviving an ugly game against Texas on Dec. 8, the switch flipped on and this team became different.
What I see in UCLA now? Chemistry and synergy. Everybody understands their roles and is thriving in them. Muhammad is the go-to-guy we thought he was, Kyle Anderson has emerged as an all-around star and leader, Travis Wear is succeeding as a second/third option and steering it all with an efficient hand is Larry Drew.
Oh, and Jordan Adams? The Quiet Assassin might be lost in the shuffle, but is still capable of scoring in bunches.
Maybe we were wrong being too hard on a young team early on? Then again, I had no idea they’d find a way to click like this. It’s a credit to Howland for pushing the right buttons and trusting his players a bit more. Every time they’ve played, I’ve marveled at how they’ve improved in their patience, efficiency and even man-to-man defense. Cal missed all of their 3-point attempts and Stanford shot 34% from the field.
UCLA has transformed from a team that lost its way and looked boring to an exciting team that’s starting to realize what they can be. I’ve seen Bruins teams save their season in February, but I don’t think I’ve seen one go from really bad to really good all in the first two months of the season.
Right now, they’re one of the Pac-12’s best teams and that’s a wonderful sight for Bruins fans who had high hopes when the year started.