UCLA wins the Pac-12 Regular Season Title outright, after Oregon gets upset at Utah and the Bruins upset the Huskies in Washington, behind the scoring of Muhammad and Adams, and the big crunchtime plays by Larry Drew II, who also sets the All-Time UCLA Record for Assists in a Season
Coming into the Season, all the hype was about UCLA’s top-ranked incoming Freshman class, and three of those phenoms did not disappoint, but in the end, it was the play of Senior transfer Larry Drew II that put the Bruins over the top. With time running down in Seattle, Drew drove to the hoop and made a lay-up that gave the Bruins a 5-point lead, then was involved in a Steal at the other end to clinch the game, as UCLA triumphed over UW 61-54. The victory was extra special to Bruin fans for two reasons: First of all, it was the Bruins’ first win at Washington since 2004, and second of all, it clinched at least a tie for the regular season Conference Title.
Thirty minutes later, Oregon fell in Utah to the lowly Utes, giving that Title to UCLA outright. UCLA has had an up and down season with disgraceful losses early and late in the year, and they also lost two POTENTIALLY good players who quit the team. But through all the turmoil, injuries and calls for Ben Howland’s head on a platter, the Bruins emerged on top. Some people may still think Howland should go, but it would be odd to see the Coach of the 1st Place team get fired.
The Bruins are now the #1 Seed in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament, to be played next week in Las Vegas. And one of the biggest reasons for their ultimate success this year is the floor leadership of Drew II. Sometimes he doesn’t seem to be that impressive, since he doesn’t make the dazzling highlight passes ala Magic Johnson –that even Tyler Honeycutt emulated sometimes, and that Kyle Anderson will probably make next year on a routine basis, but Drew has been MORE than solid, and the numbers bear that out. Not only is he #3 IN THE NATION in Assist-to-Turnover ratio, but today he set the ALL-TIME RECORD AT UCLA FOR ASSISTS IN A SEASON. He broke Pooh Richardson’s mark, notching 6 Dimes on Saturday. Of course he then topped that feat, by clinching the game with a late bucket, just like he did on February 7th, when he beat these same Huskies with a last-second game-winner at Pauley Pavilion.
Drew II was NOT a one-man army today — Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams carried the Offensive load in the second half, finishing with 21 and 17 points, after Travis Wear led the charge early, with 10 first half points. Then Wear was held scoreless after Intermission, but Muhammad and Adams more than picked up the slack. It was a very close game throughout, with the Bruins finally building a 7-point lead in the second half, but Washington stormed right back and took it down to the final minute. That’s when Drew II’s experience and composure won out, and the Bruins pulled out an extraodinary victory, and an even more unexpected Conference Title, especially after the debacle at Washington State a few days earlier.
The Bruins can’t afford inconsistency any more, as the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournies loom, where one bad game will doom them. Hopefully, the Wazzu fiasco jolted the Bruins into a mindset that will carry them deep in both Post Season Tournaments. Regardless, congratulations to Larry Drew II, all his Bruin teammates, and especially Ben Howland, for overcoming steep odds and coming out on top.