It's been a year since Oregon St. and UCLA have hooked up on the hardwood, and 2 years since the Beavers have visited the Bruins, thanks to the Pac-12 schedule rotation that has limited the Valley and LA schools to just one game against each other a season this year and last. During that time, a lot has changed, and we're not just talking about the remodel of Pauley Pavillion, though that did force the relocation of the Bruin students and some other fans.
To catch up on the state of affairs down in Westwood, we got together with Carlos Sandoval, who covers the Bruins on gojoebruin.com as well as attending UCLA, to get some first-hand answers.
Here's what Carlos was curious about, and our answers. (You can keep abreast of what's up with UCLA by following GoJoeBroun on twitter at @GoJoeBruinUCLA)
1. Shabazz Muhammad has settled in, and UCLA is winning, ranked, and atop the Pac-12 standings. But while Muhammad has shot up in the individual stats, his numbers weren't all that much in last week's win, with other players having the big days. Is the team happy now? Will things stay that way, or does he have to become the go to guy on a night in and night out basis?
It was encouraging that Shabazz tanked the past couple of games and UCLA still won those contests. He takes a lot of jumpers and forces it too much instead of letting the game come to him. At the same time, I'm a skeptic and when you lead by double-digits in the second half of a game -- competition be damned -- you should be able to sustain that lead, and it makes me wonder if UCLA can keep from imploding if Shabazz has better nights or if this is just the identity of this UCLA team.
2. Much ado has been made about some of the UCLA departures (some would refer to them as defections), and the fact that players who don't "fit in" with Coach Howland's system and ideas don't stay around. Has Howland figured that out as far as making sure he only recruits players who do see eye to eye with him, and not just those that say they do? (Thus averting these problems.)
Howland, to these eyes, makes hoops a chore for the youngsters that come through here and he often has been known to give preferential treatment to certain players thus pushing out the rest. He is also very candid about playing time and doesn't seem afraid to bench guys that really should be on the court. In terms of recruiting, that's a bit of a stretch since he did recruit two top-5 players in 2012 and has one that's incredibly unhappy in Tony Parker that looks like he's on the verge of transferring.
3. Larry Drew II is averaging over 8 assists per game, which is way up over what he has done historically. Is he and his assists as important a cog in the Bruin system as any? And what's made the difference?
UCLA fans used to bag on Larry Drew II a lot, myself included. He's been putting up those kinds of numbers all year but only recently did we stop becoming skeptical of them. If you notice his usage rate, it's crazy low and that's because he takes care of the ball and doesn't shoot very often; he's also usually the last one to touch it. That said, he's pretty important considering all the shot-takers this team has -- what, with Jordan Adams and Shabazz playing their game and the Wear twins looking for their shots more than usual -- and the talent around him has made him the distributor that he is.
4. Muhammad rightfully has got a lot of attention, but freshman forward Kyle Anderson appears to be off to a tremendous start (already 5 double doubles), and I don't think that many people had him as anywhere near being that productive. Tell us more about him And is he a game changer?
Kyle Anderson? No one knows what to make of him. He can legitimately play any position from the point to the 4, but he's been playing the latter of late. He's a real gamer and uses his length really well to nab boards, but shooting-wise, he can be pretty streaky. I don't trust his jumpshot and when he gets aggressive, he's liable to draw fouls and convert ridiculously smooth lay-ups. Is he a game-changer, though? That's tough to say. We've yet to see him take control of a game save for once or twice early on in contests.
5. As a student, you would have a pulse on the student body. We hear a lot about where the "regular" fans are at as far as satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) with Howland, AD Guerrero, and etc., but between a year away from Pauley Pavillion, and now being moved from their historic position relative to the floor, what is the student body feeling like these days in Westwood? Will they be a factor in the game?
The students are always a factor. Save for one or two games during the Winter Break, the students have been a pretty strong group, although the numbers do fluctuate. In terms of happiness in general with the program, they tend to be ridiculously positive, no matter what.
Thanks, Carlos! It's always good to hear an up to date update!