By JOHN MARSHALL
TUCSON, Ariz. — A once-huge lead down to a few points, Shabazz Muhammad popped in a 3-pointer on the wing, then turned a steal into a pair of free throws that gave UCLA a nice cushion.
The big stage and bright lights, that’s right where the Bruins’ talented freshman guard feels right at home.
Keying a huge early run and hitting big shots down the stretch, Muhammad scored 23 points and lifted UCLA to a signature road win, 84-73 over No. 6 Arizona on Thursday night.
“When the lights are on and the cameras are on, he really comes to life,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
The rest of the Bruins weren’t bad, either.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Oregon, UCLA (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12) tried to turn Arizona’s whiteout into a blowout, racing to a 16-point lead in the game’s first seven minutes.
Even when Arizona chipped away at the lead, bringing the all-in-white crowd at the McKale Center to life, the Bruins kept their composure in one of the toughest places to play in college basketball.
Larry Drew II played a steady game at the point, dishing out nine assists while turning it over twice. David Wear helped make up for the loss of his twin brother to a head injury in the second half, scoring 15 points with eight rebounds.
Kyle Anderson shook off the effects of a flu that caused him to miss a day of practice this week, grabbing 12 rebounds to go with eight points. Jordan Adams, another player who missed practice due to illness, scored 15 points after fighting through cramps against Arizona.
“It was hard, but we stayed with it,” Adams said.
Arizona (16-2, 4-2) has had a knack for pulling out comeback victories this season.
Not this time.
After a miserable start at both ends against UCLA, the Wildcats never fully recovered, pulling no closer than four points after digging a huge opening hole.
Nick Johnson scored 23 points, Mark Lyons added 16 and Solomon Hill had 13 and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats, who went 5 for 24 from 3-point range and struggled to slow the Bruins.
“We got down early,” Hill said. “When you get down like that, it’s hard to fight back. UCLA is a great team and we couldn’t contain them.”
Heading in, this was one of the most anticipated games of the Pac-12 season, two of the conference’s most talented teams that score in bunches and have some of the best freshmen anywhere.
Arizona’s freshmen big men — Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett — have been solid in their first season in the desert, though they have been able to fall back on Arizona’s veterans when things have gotten tight.
After opening with 14 straight wins, the Wildcats’ luck in pulling out tight games ran out with a 70-66 road loss to Oregon on Jan. 10. They responded with a pair of impressive wins, beating Oregon State and Arizona State both by double digits.
UCLA had some rough patches early in the season, losing to Cal Poly and needing overtime to beat UC Irvine, along with Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith transferring from the program.
The Bruins rounded back into form after losing to San Diego State on Dec. 1, winning 10 straight games before losing to No. 16 Oregon on Saturday.
UCLA’s freshmen — Muhammad, Adams and Kyle Anderson — handled a big road test in a win over Colorado two weeks ago, but the McKale Center and all those rowdy fans wearing white T-shirts and screaming at them.
No problem for these Bruins, young and old.
Confident and crisp on offense, UCLA made eight of its first 12 shots, racing out to a 19-3 lead. Arizona helped out by clanging shot after shot, opening 1 for 13, with most of those around the rim.
The Wildcats were getting decent shots, though, and a few started to fall as they chipped away at the lead.
Arizona increased its shooting percentage up to 31 percent (11 for 25) by halftime, but had trouble stopping the Bruins, who went 19 for 34 from the floor for a 40-30 lead. Muhammad led the way with 11 points.
“From a defensive perspective, we had no answer for them,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Even without Wear, who had six points in the first half, UCLA maintained its composure.
Scoring on the break, inside and on tough drives to the basket, the Bruins kept dropping in shots, pushing the lead to 55-41 in the first seven minutes of the second half.
Arizona wasn’t quite done.
Sparked by Johnson’s three-point play, the Wildcats scored the next 10 points to get within four and crank up the volume in the McKale Center.
The Bruins made sure they didn’t get any closer.
Tony Parker scored on a three-point play, Muhammad dropped in a 3-pointer and UCLA pushed the lead up to 70-60 with just over four minutes left.
Arizona kept clanging from the perimeter and the Bruins made the shots and free throws when they needed to, pulling out their biggest road win of the season.
“Our young guys aren’t true freshmen anymore,” Howland said. “They have 20 games under their belts and are playing like veterans.”