For some inexplicable reason, UCLA opened as a 2.5-point favorite over No. 7 Missouri, whose only loss came against No. 4 Louisville. Part of that might have to do with the 7 p.m. game being the Tigers first true road game this year, but the Bruins haven’t been close to showing they’re a top-10 caliber team.
What’s at stake: After faltering against San Diego State, UCLA has one last chance to bolster its postseason resume as it prepares to enter Pac-12 play on Jan. 3. A five-game winning streak would likely vault them back into the rankings as well, and keep Ben Howland’s job a little safer.
“It would definitely be a huge win for our current season,” said point guard Larry Drew II. “At this point, I think a win over anybody, everybody at this point would be good.”
Added freshman Kyle Anderson: “It’s a real big test for us. Missouri’s a great team. They’re a top-10 team. We’ve gotten better than the last time we played a top-25 team. We wanna see where we stand.”
At a glance: It’s really hard to see how the Bruins will defend a team as athletic as Missouri, so they’ll likely have to score at least 80 points to win. Ken Pomeroy still has UCLA as the 12th most efficient offensive team in the country, and the freshman trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams have started to gel more in recent games. Missouri enters the game as the top rebounding team in the country, which could hurt the Bruins; UCLA has struggled a bit at times with giving up second-chance points. Forward Laurence Bowers leads the Tigers with 16.9 points per game.
Players to watch: Alex Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound transfer from UConn, is listed at exactly the same measurements as Long Beach State’s Dan Jennings, who wrecked the Bruins for 27 points on 13 of 15 shooting. Oriakhi isn’t as offensively-minded, but given Ben Howland’s refusal to give Tony Parker big minutes, there’s still no one who can physically keep him off the boards for second-chance buckets. Howland has talked about Larry Drew’s defense being inconsistent this season, and he’ll need to try and limit the quick Phil Pressey, who’s averaging 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.