If you believe all the recruiting blogs, the national championship game should be between UCLA's freshmen and Kentucky's freshmen. But a trip to Brooklyn showed both teams that nothing will be won on paper. Kentucky lost to Duke last week at Barclays Center, and UCLA was hard-pressed to win one of its two games at the same site in the Progressive Legends Classic.
After being upset by Georgetown in Monday's semifinals, UCLA was tied with Georgia with just over five minutes left in the consolation game Tuesday night. But the Bruins had just enough athleticism to pull out a 60-56 victory as highly touted freshman Shabazz Muhammad led the way with 21 points.
The Bulldogs (1-4) had four straight empty possessions in the final two minutes as the Bruins (4-1) opened a 59-52 lead with 14.6 seconds left to play. Their last six points of the game came at the foul line.
UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson, who played at St. Anthony's in Jersey City, finished with nine points and nine rebounds, and Travis Wear had 10 points and eight rebounds. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope topped Georgia with 16 points.
After Indiana struggled for much of the game against Georgia in Monday night's semifinals, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean insisted the Bulldogs were a far better team than their early 1-3 record suggested. "Beating them will be valuable in the RPI later in the season because they're going to win a lot of games," Crean said.
Georgia coach Mark Fox quite agreed, saying his team hadn't played like the team he expected in early losses to Youngstown State and Southern Miss. But just as the Bulldogs' size bothered Indiana, it also posed a problem for UCLA and its celebrated recruits.
The Bulldogs led by 11 in the first half before UCLA put together a 6-0 run to trim the halftime deficit to 30-25. The Bruins shot only 37.0 percent in the first half, including 1-for-9 from three-point range.
Georgia big man Nemanja Djurisic had all eight of his points in the first half to lead the Bulldogs, who shot 46.2 percent. But they cooled off considerably near the end of the first half and into the second, going 2-for-13 and committing five turnovers in the span as they trailed 40-35. UCLA opened the second half with a 15-5 run, including seven points from Muhammad.
But before the Bruins' talent could take over, Georgia's grit showed up. A three by Caldwell-Pope at 10:44 gave Georgia the lead at 42-40.
From that point, momentum swung back and forth down the stretch. Caldwell-Pope made one of two foul shots for a tie at 49 at the 5:09 mark. But that was as close as the Bulldogs got to an upset.