UCLA Basketball: Why Larry Drew II Is the Bruins' X-Factor

Robert PaceContributor IIIDecember 19, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 18:  Larry Drew II #10 of the UCLA Bruins drives against the Long Beach State 49ers at Pauley Pavilion on December 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  UCLA won 89-70.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

UCLA notched its third game in a row on Tuesday night with an 89-70 blowout win over Long Beach State, improving the Bruins’ record to 8-3 on the season.

After a rough start to the season that has risen many concerning questions for the outcome of what was predicted to be an outstanding season for UCLA, the Bruins are on an upward trend after a cache of disappointing losses.

Star freshmen Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad, who put up a collective 45 points and nine rebounds in UCLA’s victory over Long Beach State, have carried the Bruins with their combined 35 points per game and have been a ray of hope in salvaging the team’s season.

Nevertheless, as the Bruins continue to refine their play before Pac-12 conference play begins in the new year, that ray of hope now emanates from the team’s seldom-recognized point guard Larry Drew II, who turned a corner on Tuesday night.

While the redshirt-senior transfer from North Carolina has been an excellent facilitator for UCLA in his first season on the court in a Bruin uniform, Drew has been a merely mediocre shooter, averaging 40 percent from the field and a dreadful 29 percent from beyond the arc heading into Tuesday night’s game.

However, under the inspiration of UCLA’s coaching staff, Drew came out with a vengeance on Tuesday night and not only shut down LBSU’s point guard but also achieved a season-high 14 points with nine assists and two steals. Better yet, he shot 6-for-7 from the field including a perfect 2-for-2 from three-point range.

While Tuesday night’s game in Pauley Pavilion was only one game in a season of many, Drew proved to his team—and more importantly, to himself—that he can score, which is a crucial development for the Bruins as they approach conference play in January.

“That’s the best game of Larry Drew’s career thus far at UCLA,” head coach Ben Howland said after the game via UCLABruins.com. “He played fantastic at both ends.”

Not only was it the 6’2” point guard’s best game in his UCLA career but also his best performance since a game against NC State in his freshman season at North Carolina (15 PTS 7 AST 6-9 FG 2-5 3PFG) and one of his most efficient shooting nights in his college career.

“The coaches are giving me all the tools we need to go out there and perform, and it’s on me to go out there and actually execute,” Drew said in the postgame press conference. “I need to give 100 percent effort and intensity for the whole 40 minutes.”

Execute he did against on a windy night in Westwood. While he wasn’t the top scorer or most exciting player to watch on the court, he led the Bruins to victory on Tuesday with his relentless defense and accurate shooting.

As we saw during the game, when Drew is shooting the ball confidently, especially from the outside, it significantly alters the opposing defense’s approach and forces it to guard Drew tightly on the perimeter, which creates much more open space on the floor for UCLA’s offense.

As the Bruins’ only senior and starting point guard, Drew sets the tone for the rest of the team with his performance. While UCLA has other proficient scorers in its lineup, the dynamics of game drastically change when he performs well on offense and brings an unrivaled intensity on defense.

UCLA’s win on Tuesday may have been just another victory over a mediocre nonconference opponent, but it was a bigger victory for the team and its point guard.

It may have been just the push that this Bruins team needs to get rolling on those rusty tracks.