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UCLA rebounds from early-season woes to claim Pac-12 title

Mar 9, 2013, 6:04 PM EST

Ben Howland AP

After UCLA lost at home to Cal-Poly, we were all ready to send Ben Howland off to the broadcast booth.

Things still didn’t look so swell even after Shabazz Muhammad finally became eligible when Tony Parker  seemed to indicate that he was not entirely happy at UCLA.

Howland might be excused for asking “How you like me now?” today, after his team stayed the course, found some momentum, and nailed down the Pac-12 regular season title, winning 61-54 at Washington to finish the season 23-8 (13-5) and ranked No. 23 in the nation.

The circumstances of the win seemed to vindicate Howland’s decision to build his team around transfers and freshmen, a choice that seemed absurd when the season began. Against Washington, much-maligned former Tar Heel Larry Drew II made a crucial layup late, and frosh Jordan Adams came up with a steal and free throws down the stretch to slam the door. Shabazz Muhammad, who may be auditioning for his NBA close-up as we speak, was the leading scorer with 22 points.

Poise – a word not easily applied to the Bruin program over the past couple of years – won the day, and the season, for UCLA. The Bruins got it done when it mattered most, on the same day when Oregon choked away a shot at the title by losing to cellar-dwelling Utah.

Winning with freshmen and transfers might be John Calipari’s calling card at Kentucky, but he’s got competition from Westwood this year. Veteran play from Drew at the point makes UCLA – a 6-seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket predictions – a fair bet to move up the national rankings and the seed lines if they can hold serve in the Pac-12 tournament.

Could a top-4 seed be in the offing for the team that lost to Cal Poly this year? If so, they’ve earned it.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.