Can the prospects from the Class of 2012 save coach Ben Howland's job at UCLA? If the well-rounded effort from the freshmen Wednesday night is any indication of what's potentially in store for the future, the head honcho for the Bruins won't need to worry about his paycheck at any point soon.
Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson (pictured), Jordan Adams and Tony Parker combined for 66 points in a 79-74 overtime victory over Arizona State in a Pac-12 Conference game at Pauley Pavilion to silence the skepticism and give their coach a sense of employment security.
"I think the media got it right," Howland said during the press conference afterward. "They are the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and they played like it today."
He is referring to the aforementioned group being recognized as one of the nation's best collection of recruits right around this time last year. Muhammad was arguably the country's premier player, No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Anderson (No. 3), Parker (No. 24) and Adams (No. 65) were not far behind in terms of national exposure.
Whispers about Howland not being able to maximize the talent of his college rookies recently started to circulate. They lived up to the advanced billing Wednesday. As a result, the Bruins (21-7 overall record and 11-4 in conference) are tied for first place in the standings with Oregon (22-6, 11-4). Keep in mind, a tough test looms Saturday against Arizona (23-5, 11-5).
"We're comfortable, we don't look like freshmen," Muhammad said. “We're in first place, and trying to stay in first place, we're doing whatever we can do to finish strong."
Muhammad scored 15 of his 21 points in the first half against the Sun Devils. Adams had six of his 22 points in overtime. Anderson finished with a career-high 21 points and 15 rebounds. While Parker did not stuff the stat sheet, his contributions from off the bench were important nonetheless considering starting post player Travis Wear did not play due to a lingering ankle injury.
“We’re a better team than we were in November,'' Anderson said.
The players from the Class of 2012 have found a way to get the job done, indeed. With three games left in the regular season, and the conference tournament a couple of weeks away, the Bruins appear poised to continue their winning ways. A prolonged postseason run during March Madness is not entirely out of the question either. Thankfully that is, particularly for Howland's sake.
Sean Ceglinsky has covered prep and college sports on the West Coast for the better part of the past 15-plus years. Follow him on twitter: @SeanCeglinsky