UCLA vs. Arizona: It's Official, the Bruins Are Back

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2013

Jan 24, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins guard/forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) smiles as he looks at the scoreboard during the second half against the Arizona Widlcats at McKale Center. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 84-73. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The stench is gone from the UCLA program. 

Ben Howland, you're safe. Bruins fans, time to enjoy a winner again. Shabazz Muhammad has got this. 

Muhammad was the best player at the McKale Center on Thursday night when UCLA rolled in determined and dominated from the start, knocking off No. 6 Arizona 84-73. 

The Bruins are right in the thick of the Pac-12 title race, and that may have been their motivation at Arizona, but the win meant so much more than that for a program that hasn't been able to shake the slime off the last three seasons.

It's time to put all the bad press and all the transfers behind them. 

They've got a noble star again, and he's ready to lead this team back to where Howland had it not that long ago. 

Muhammad has no reservations in that role. He gave Arizona a nice stiff arm anytime the Wildcats decided they'd try to provide a challenge. He scored 23 points, and many of his baskets came when Arizona had started to inch closer. 

UCLA didn't make it through this game without some adversity. Freshmen Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were both playing sick and were forced to play 61 minutes because of UCLA's thin bench. Travis Wear left the game after playing only 11 minutes because of a head injury. 

After losing to Oregon, Muhammad told dailybreeze.com of the Arizona game: "This is a `gotta-win' for us. We've got to win this game, no questions asked."

The Bruins probably would have folded at the tiniest sign of trouble the last few years, and that was partially Howland's fault. His teams had always competed their rears off, but the last few years were Bizarro versions of the program he took to three straight Final Fours. 

Again, Muhammad is the savior. 

He's the most talented player in the Pac-12 and yet he still plays harder than anyone else. His intensity and confidence is beginning to become contagious. 

The Bruins will need some help from the rest of the league to win a Pac-12 title. Oregon does not play UCLA or Arizona again, and the toughest game left on its schedule is arguably at Colorado on March 7. 

A Pac-12 title is not out of the question for the Bruins. It could just be out of their hands.

But that's not what's important this season. It's getting the attitude right inside the program, and Muhammad is helping Howland pull that off.