UCLA‘s first true road test of the year wasn’t pretty. A tough win at Utah Thursday only foreshadowed what awaited them in Colorado Saturday. Even though they escaped with a 78-75 win, it proved they need to work on improving their focus.
The Bruins nearly let a 13-point lead slip away and had to survive a last-second three-point attempt that fell short. But a win is a win and they racked up their ninth in a row while learning some things about themselves.
First, Travis Wear has been a revelation in his secondary role. The better of the Wear twins led the Bruins in scoring with 22 points and hit several clutch baskets to slow down Colorado’s rally. I’ve long believed that he’s better when he’s not the focus of the UCLA offense and it’s showing when he can provide a boost like today.
Second, the fab freshman showed again that all three rarely have an off night at the same time. Shabazz Muhammad struggled mightily against Utah (6 points) and still had a hard time finding his jumper against Colorado (14 points on 6-16 shooting). However, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams picked up the slack Saturday, combining for 30 points while Anderson added 10 rebound and five assists.
In the final minute, all three combined to go 6-8 from the free throw line. It’s a good sign for the Bruins that the freshmen are growing to find more ways to contribute, even while facing adversity.
Best of all, UCLA sits atop the Pac-12 standings. A month ago, that wasn’t even a rational thought but it’s funny how things change. These last two wins weren’t pretty but it reminded the Bruins that they have no room for complacency. They have to improve their focus to finish games strong but seeing that they’ve improved their defense somewhat as well as their offensive efficiency, it’s only a matter of time.
Either way, they should return to Westwood with their heads high because they’ve added another layer to this peculiar but fun season.
Evan Barnes is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who has covered sports for the Los Angeles Sentinel, South Bay Daily Breeze and ESPN, among others. For more thoughts on the Pac-12 or anything else, follow me on Twitter: @Evan_B