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NCAAB West – UCLA is fighting its Way Back

The strut is back in UCLA’s basketball program. The Bruins are 14-3 overall the season and 4-0 in Pac-12 Conference play. The Bruins were being laughed at from the east coast to the west coast in November after being beaten by Cal Poly at the Pauley Pavilion. Many wondered how long Ben Howland would have his job, however less than 50 days later and UCLA is amongst the hottest teams in the country with 9 straight wins and has broken back into the Top 25 in the nation at no. 24.

The Bruins’ most talented player freshman Shabazz Muhammad has rounded into shape, while Josh Smith departed for Georgetown and UCLA is playing its best ball of the season.

On Saturday, the Bruins went on the road to Colorado and beat the Buffaloes 78-75. That win might not seem like it is that impressive, but a team that has admitted its defense is not the best, has made huge strides in changing that. UCLA is playing like it can and will give the Arizona Wildcats a run for their money in the conference.

Because of their recent play, is why several round ball experts had the Bruins in their preseason top 10. The recruiting class Howland had joining the team was impressive with Muhammad, Kyle Anderson at the point, Tony Parker underneath and Jordan Adams at the wing. However, the NCAA did not let Muhammad play the first three games due to an eligibility issue, but once he was given the green light, it was easy to see the toughness, intensity and raw talent he brought to the team.

Against Colorado, Travis Wear scored 23, Adams, who some feel might be the best player thus far on the team, had 18, while Muhammad scored 14. UCLA is realizing they can score and who plays what role on the team The Bruins scored 97 against Missouri a couple of weeks ago.

The strict structured format of Howland’s offense restricted the talent the Bruins have and Howland has now accepted that. His players now have more freedom on the court. They will not be filling the basket like Loyola Marymount in years past, but the players are pushing the ball up the court when they have to and playing half court ball when they have to. There are not many players in college ball as dangerous as Muhammad is in transition.

In the three losses the Bruins have suffered, two can be accepted. One was a tough loss to Georgetown in the college debut of Muhammad. One was against San Diego State a nationally ranked team. However, the Cal Poly loss has been hard for players and coaches alike to swallow. The Bruins however, know they have to move on from that loss and have done so to the tune of 9 consecutive wins.

The Bruins are much different than they were versus Cal Poly and have a good shot at winning the Pac-12 title. As far as a national title or returning again this year to the Final Four, the odds are unlikely. However, the Bruins will certainly put the scare into many NCAA basketball teams before the season is over.

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