The No. 7 Missouri Tigers will play their first true road game of the season on Friday when they visit New Pauley Pavilion to face the improving UCLA Bruins in a non-conference tilt.
Frank Haith's Tigers earned their sixth win in a row on Dec. 22 by downing the previously unbeaten Illinois Fighting Illini, 82-73, in St. Louis. Missouri began its winning streak after suffering its only loss of the season to Louisville (84-61) with a hard fought win over a tough Virginia Commonwealth (68-65) unit. The Tigers enter Friday's action with an 10-1 record and a Division I leading average of 47.2 rebounds per contest. Missouri is very good on both ends of the floor as it is scoring 78.2 ppg on 44.9 percent shooting from the field while limiting its opposition to 61.7 ppg with a .356 field goal percentage.
UCLA had tons of hype surrounding the program coming into the season due to its stellar recruiting class that was set to join an already decent core of returners. Ben Howland's squad did not get off to a great start as it dropped to 4-2 after being upset at home by Cal Poly (70-68) in late November, but the Bruins have won five of six games since to build a 9-3 record. UCLA's other two losses came to very formidable opponents in Georgetown (78-70) and San Diego State (78-69). The Bruins are now on a four-game winning streak with their last three victories coming by an average of 24.7 ppg.
These schools have not faced off since March 21, 2002 when Missouri claimed an 82-73 victory. The Bruins won all five of the previous meetings before the Tigers' lone triumph in the series.
Missouri's dominance on the glass was apparent in its bout versus the Fighting Illini, as it held a sizeable 58-35 edge in the rebounding battle to help power the nine-point win. The Tigers converted just 39.7 percent of their field goal attempts in the contest, but they held Illinois to 33.8 percent shooting to come out on top. Laurence Bowers had 23 points and 10 rebounds to pace the team, while Alex Oriakhi added 13 points and 14 rebounds. Jabari Brown had 18 points and seven rebounds in his first start of the season, and Phil Pressey dealt out 11 assists. Bowers (16.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Brown (15 ppg), Pressey (12.3 ppg, 6.3 apg), and Oriakhi (10.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg) are all carrying double-digit scoring averages. Oriakhi has made a huge impact for the Tigers after transferring from Connecticut over the offseason and being immediately instated into the starting five.
UCLA rode the strong showing from its freshmen trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, and Kyle Anderson to a 91-78 decision over Fresno State its last time out. Muhammad scored a career-high 27 points, Adams had 25 points on 10- of-14 shooting from the field, and Anderson posted a career-night with 20 points, 17 rebounds, and seven assists. It was the first instance in UCLA's storied history that three freshmen finished with 20 or more points in the same game. The Bruins showed they can battle on the boards as well by holding a 42-26 edge on the glass. Muhammad, who is considered by many as the best freshman in college basketball, is pacing UCLA with 18.8 ppg and Adams is a close second with 18.2 ppg. Travis Wear (10.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is playing well and adding size from the forward slot as well, but Anderson is becoming the x- factor. The lanky 6-9 guard is developing into a matchup problem for opponents, who already have plenty to worry about with the Bruins' stacked roster.