Drew's game winner can't mask UCLA's issues

LOS ANGELES -- Yes, Larry Drew II can shoot.

After two weeks of seeing opponents sag off of him and daring him to beat them, Drew did exactly that.

His jump shot from just outside the left elbow swished through the net as the final horn sounded and lifted UCLA to a 59-57 victory over the Washington Huskies Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.

He calmly stroked the shot in a high-pressure situation and did so for all the world to see. The game was televised by ESPN, and his shot was sure to make the nightly top 10 plays. That clip ought to make its way around to future opponents, who have recently stayed away from Drew like he was a playground kid with chicken pox.

And this wasn’t Drew’s first time winning a game for UCLA. His driving layup with 17 seconds left in overtime gave the Bruins an 80-79 victory on Nov. 13, and another drive to the hoop with nine seconds left sealed a 57-53 victory at Utah.

But Thursday was the first time Drew hit the winner in such dramatic fashion, and it was also the first time he did so with a jump shot instead of a drive -- something opponents in recent games did not believe he could do based on the way they hadn't been guarding him on the perimeter.

“I definitely feel like I can put the ball in the basket when I need to,” Drew said. “But with a team like this we have so many horses and so many guys I can give up the ball to to fill up the basket. I feel like my playmaking ability for others is equally -- if not better -- than my ability to put the ball in the basket myself.

“That’s the type of player I am. I’m a pass-first point guard. Old school if you want to call it that, but at the end of the day I just want to do whatever it takes to get my team the [win].”

Thursday it took a jumper. Drew took the inbounds pass with about 10 seconds to play after Washington’s C.J. Wilcox made a layup to tie the score at 57. Drew dribbled up the court, cut out to the left wing, elevated and made a smooth stroke.

“Obviously, I knew I had enough time to get to the basket or create a shot for myself or one of my teammates,” Drew said. “I think the defense pretty much dictated it. My eyes were on the rim, and I just found an opening and I have confidence in my jumper and it went in.”

Thank goodness for that. The basket put a merciful end to an ugly display of basketball and added some excitement to what otherwise was a snoozer of a game. UCLA shot a season-low 33.3 percent (22 of 66) and had more shot attempts than points.

Washington had 19 turnovers -- the most by a UCLA opponent this season -- and missed its first 13 3-point shots before Abdul Gaddy made two in the final five minutes. At halftime, the teams had combined for almost as many turnovers (21) as made baskets (22).

Winning ugly is better than losing, but the Bruins have been playing ugly for a while now. They have shot 34.7, 38.2 and 33.3 percent in their past three games and have been outrebounded, 143-105, in those games.

Two of those three have been losses to Arizona State, a decent team, and USC, a team with a losing record. Thursday’s win was UCLA’s first since Jan. 31 and first at home since Jan. 23. Winning is always good, but playing poorly on national television is not going to win over anyone on the NCAA tournament selection and seeding committee.

“We have plenty of wins on our résumé that are important for us,” said forward Shabazz Muhammad. “We definitely need another win where its solid and just to build off of our chemistry. The SC loss was so bad, and coming here with an ugly win -- we’ll take it, but we definitely need to look for a really solid win.”

Muhammad might look in the mirror to help the cause. Yes, he is a dynamic scorer, and his defensive effort is improving, but the rest of his stat line leaves a lot to be desired. He’s averaging five rebounds a game (tied for third on the team), has only 13 steals (seventh on the team) and one blocked shot (10th on the team).

Yet the most glaring stat in his line is 17 assists in 20 games. Thursday was his eighth game with zero assists, and he’s had only three games this season with more than one. Opponents are clearly planning to stop Muhammad, but he keeps firing away even over double-teams, and is averaging 18 shots a game over the past four games. Once the ball is in his hands, it’s going up no matter how many of his teammates are open or how poor the shot selection is.

And Thursday he showed that when the ball isn’t in his hands, he will pout. As Drew dribbled the ball during the 10 seconds before hitting the game winner, Muhammad curled up to the top of the key and adamantly clapped his hands and stomped his feet calling for the ball.

After Drew’s shot went in, most UCLA players dog-piled on top, but Muhammad casually walked past the pile with the look of a lover scorned, not even bothering to glance at the proceedings.

“Oh yeah, I wanted the ball,” said Muhammad, who had a game-high 22 points but took 23 shots and had zero assists. “But Larry is such an aggressive player, and as soon as the ball went up I knew it was going to be good.

“Everybody was on him and attacking him and I knew Larry was going to have something broken or some scratches, so I was going to wait until he gets up to congratulate him. That was a big-time shot and we’re all so happy that we won the game.”

That’s because Larry Drew II can shoot. And thank goodness for that.