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Muhammad, UCLA split two games in Brooklyn

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- After losing to Georgetown on Monday night and missing the chance to play No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday, UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad said it didn't "feel good inside" to waste that opportunity.

Imagine then, how it would have felt for the player widely regarded as the country's top freshman and a potential future top NBA pick to start his collegiate career with back-to-back upset losses. Or, for the No. 13 Bruins, for that matter.

But Muhammad, in his first start and second game, helped UCLA avoid that fate Tuesday night. The Bruins held off Georgia 60-56 in the consolation game of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center.

Muhammad scored 21 points, 14 in the second half, as UCLA (4-1) rallied at the end of the first half and start of the second before outlasting the Bulldogs (1-4) in a tense stretch run.

"It was really important tonight that we got the 'W,'" UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It would have been a long plane ride back, to come out of the trip to New York 0-2. ...

"It felt good to get the 'W' tonight after the stinging disappointment of last night."

Instead, Georgia had to absorb a sickening feeling of deja vu, having led two top-15 teams for most of the first half but blowing their advantage in two straight games.

"Similar to last night, we didn't make the plays in the gut of the game," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "The other team made the plays, and we did not."

Many of those plays came from the free-throw line, where UCLA was 20-for-30 while Georgia was just 6-of-10.

Muhammad was injured for two weeks leading into the season and was suspended for three games for accepting "impermissible gifts" before the NCAA reinstated him on Friday following UCLA's appeal. He quickly asserted himself in the past two games, especially down the stretch Tuesday night. For the game, he shot 6-for-12 from the field and was 8-for-11 from the foul line.

His two free throws with 1:15 left gave the Bruins some slight breathing room for a 55-52 lead, and they would let Georgia get no closer. The foul shots came after Vincent Williams' 3-pointer brought Georgia within 53-52 with 3:06 left.

"He did a good job, especially getting to the line, getting fouled, attacking the basket," Howland said.

Muhammad said he was "getting more comfortable out there." Asked about his poise in getting aggressive so quickly as a newcomer, Muhammad said he realized the Bruins were missing some players due to injuries and saw matchups he could exploit.

"I just tried to take advantage of that," he said.

UCLA's other star freshman, Jordan Adams, who set a school record by scoring at least 20 points in each of the Bruins' first four games, scored just four points. Travis Wear scored 10 points for UCLA, while Kyle Anderson added nine.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia with 16 points, 13 in the second half. He held his right arm after going down hard in the final minutes on what Fox later said he thought would be a foul, though no call was made. Caldwell-Pope remained in the game and appeared fine physically after that.

UCLA stormed past Georgia early in the second half after struggling through most of the first. The Bruins took their first lead of the game, 35-33, when Norman Powell hit a 3-pointer with 16:39 left, following a pair of free throws from Powell. UCLA capped a 21-5 run on both sides of the half with a free throw from Anderson, giving the Bruins a 40-35 lead with 14:05 left in the game.

But Georgia quickly responded, going on a 7-0 run, with Caldwell-Pope scoring five straight points and giving the Bulldogs the lead again, 42-40, with 10:45 left.

But UCLA held off the charge as the teams swapped leads down the stretch before UCLA pulled away.

As they had against top-ranked Indiana on Monday night, the Bulldogs led a ranked foe for most of the first half Tuesday. A 7-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 22-12 lead with 7:40 to play in the half. With Nemanja Djurisic leading the way with eight points, Georgia relied largely on its inside game. But UCLA benefitted from going to a zone defense and closed the gap to 30-25 at halftime.

NOTES: UCLA forward David Wear, who left with a back injury midway through the first half of Monday night's game, was out for the Bruins. ... Bruins forward Tony Parker, who missed Monday night's game with a back injury, played three minutes and was whistled for two fouls Tuesday. ... Donte' Williams had eight points for Georgia, and teammate Marcus Thornton pulled down 10 rebounds.
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