SEATTLE (AP) — Once they got word, UCLA stopped with the hugs and handshakes on the court and raced into the locker room, huddling around cellphones and computers to get whatever updates they could on what was happening in Salt Lake City.
When Utah’s upset of Oregon became final, the Bruins’ locker room erupted with cheers; the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title was theirs alone.
“To go through all the adversity we’ve gone through this season, to be able to win it here is really special,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “To beat a really good team on their home floor is difficult to do, and that was done today.”
Shabazz Muhammad scored 21 points, Larry Drew II came up with another huge shot against Washington, and No. 23 UCLA clinched the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title with a 61-54 win over the Huskies on Saturday.
The day began with four teams still alive for a piece of the Pac-12 title, thanks mostly to the Bruins opening the door by losing at Washington State on Wednesday night, their first loss in Pullman in 20 years. They slammed shut the hopes for anyone other than Oregon by suffocating the Huskies for the final 5 minutes, holding Washington to just two points.
That closing surge by the Bruins gave them their first win in Seattle since 2004 and at least a share of the regular-season title. When they got help from Utah, the title belonged to the Bruins for the third time in Howland’s tenure. They will be the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas.
“That was our main goal at the beginning of the season,” UCLA’s Travis Wear said. “We fought through some adversity during the season and to end in this environment and come into Washington and get the win it feels awesome.”
Muhammad scored 14 in the second half and helped UCLA (23-8, 13-5 Pac-12) rally from a four-point deficit with 5 minutes remaining. He took over when the Bruins needed their freshman to be a star. Howland believes Muhammad’s performance in the final regular-season game of the season — and likely his career — should earn him the conference player of the year award.
“I thought Shabazz was great today. Shabazz is the player of the year in the conference,” Howland said. “This win hopefully hammers that home. He was phenomenal.”
Jordan Adams added 17 points and Travis Wear had 10 for the Bruins, who avoided being swept in the state of Washington for the first time since 1993. Drew hit the winning shot at the buzzer against Washington in early February in Los Angeles and came up with another huge basket in the final minute again.
Drew finished with seven points and became UCLA’s single-season assists leader, passing Pooh Richardson. UCLA also took advantage of Washington’s 19 turnovers, turning them into 29 points.
Scott Suggs had 14 points, but Washington (17-14, 9-9 leading scorer C.J. Wilcox was just 3 of 13 shooting for eight points.
Down by one at the half, UCLA started the second half on a roll, hitting five of its first six shots. Adams and Muhammad combined for the first 10 points of the half as the Bruins took their largest lead at 40-33 with 16:20 left. Washington eventually worked it was back and pulled even at 45 with 8:56 left after a jumper from Abdul Gaddy and steal and layup from Andrew Andrews. Norman Powell had an open baseline drive, but 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye quickly rotated and smothered the shot, leading to Suggs’ jumper in the lane that gave Washington a 47-45 lead with 7:56 left.
Muhammad briefly pulled UCLA even before N’Diaye’s three-point play and Gaddy scoring on an inbound pass for a 52-47 lead. N’Diaye added another huge block, this time on Adams and did a few pushups while lying on the ground, but the Huskies missed three good opportunities to extend the lead — including Wilcox’s open 3 rimming out — before Kyle Anderson and Muhammad both scored to draw even at 52-all.
Washington would remain stuck on 52 for the next four minutes while UCLA took the lead on free throws from Adams and Muhammad. Wilcox had another 3 rim out before Washington’s scoring skid ended on Shawn Kemp Jr.’s lob dunk with 1:03 left — the Huskies only points over the final 5:59 — to cut the deficit to 57-54.
UCLA drained the shot clock and Drew beat Suggs off the dribble for a driving layup with 32.6 left that proved to be the clinching basket.
“We made an effort to play defense from the start,” Muhammad said. “I think in the second half we really tightened it up and they had trouble scoring.”
Kemp finished with 10 points for Washington, but eight of those came early. He was the only other Washington player in double figures.
“I don’t have a lot to say. It was pretty obvious to our team and me where the difference in that game was. UCLA did a great job of forcing us into 19 turnovers, which they converted into 29 points,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They scored 61, so that’s right at half of their points. It’s similar to what happened at their place.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.