SALT LAKE CITY — One of the top recruits in the nation last year was Shabazz Muhammad of Las Vegas. He broke a lot of hearts when he decided to go to UCLA. Likely, he's one of those one-and-done guys who will be playing in the NBA a season from now.
Since becoming eligible three games into this college season, he’s more than lived up to his hype, averaging 19.6 points per game for the Bruins and leading the Pac-12 with 49 percent 3-point shooting.
However, Muhammad was a nonfactor in UCLA’s close win over Utah on Thursday night as he scored a season-low six points on just 3-of-13 shooting, including 0 of 4 from 3-point range.
One of the main reasons for his lack of production was Utah defensive specialist Cedric Martin, who dogged Muhammad for much of the evening and held him to single digits for the first and — who knows? — maybe only time in his college career.
Martin was making his first start since the BYU game a month ago after sitting out with a groin injury for three games and not starting the past two. Not only did he shine on the defensive end, he was also the leading scorer in the game, scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including a 3-pointer.
The low-key Martin explained what he tried to do to keep Muhammad down Thursday night.
“I didn’t play like a baby. I played him like a grown man,’’ he said. “Everybody kept saying he was the No. 1 player in the nation. I didn’t let it phase me. I got up in his grill as much as I could, talking, hitting — whatever I had to do to keep him down to the six points he had.’’
UCLA coach Ben Howland praised Martin afterward, saying “I thought he did a good job’’ on Muhummad and added “I thought it was really good team defense.’’
Howland said Muhummad missed some good looks early in the ball game, but said he was “as happy as anyone in the locker room” and “he’ll bounce back Saturday.’’
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak couldn’t have been happier with Martin, who was wearing a big ice pack on his right hand after hitting the floor hard late in the game.
“He’s wandering around here wounded,’’ Krystkowiak said. “He’s a heck of a defender. He’s an absolute gem. I love that kid. Every team need a guy like him. He’s a foxhole kind of guy. He’s going to put his head in and disrupt the game. It was also great to see him make shots.’’
Utah's Jason Washburn also couldn't say enough about Martin.
"There is no amount of words that speak of the value of Cedric Martin,'' he said. "The man plays harder than anyone I've ever been on the court with. He guarded one of the best freshmen in the country and I thought he did a phenomenal job.''
Another player who earned praise from Krytkowiak was freshman Jeremy Olsen, who got backup minutes behind Jason Washburn instead of Dallan Bachynski and came up with four points and two rebounds in six minutes.
“He is a redshirt freshman who has worked his butt off in practice every day and hasn’t complained,’’ Krytkowiak said. “J.O. is going to be a good player.’’