UCLA plays number #7 Missouri Tigers tonight at 7 pm on ESPN 2. I really think there is at least a chance that a blowout embarrassing loss could spell the immediate end to Ben Howland as UCLA coach. This is the last out of conference game before the PAC 12 starts. If you are going to fire Howland during the season as rumors say is possible, that would be the best time for it to happen and to make assistant coach Matthews the interim coach. A non-blowout loss may not cause the immediate end to Ben Howland as UCLA coach but it is another nail in his fast closing coffin.
Ironically Howland's only hope to win this game is offense. Howland's Bruins will have to outscore Missouri in this game because they will have a lot of trouble stopping the Tigers. This was Howland's choice as he went away from defense to offense and today will be a true test (and possibly Howland's final exam if he fails) of the new offense-first UCLA Basketball Bruins.
Howland comes into this game with the highest scoring team he has in his tenure. And the scoring is legitimate, led by the number two in assists in the nation Larry Drew II. UCLA ranks number one in scoring in the PAC 12 (19 in the nation according to ESPN), with Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams ranked number four and five respectively in the PAC 12. And then there is the "fourth" starter, Kyle Anderson, a passing Power Forward who is number five in the conference in rebounds and a key to UCLA being #6 in the nation on assists.
Can UCLA out score Missouri in the biggest game for Ben Howland since April 5, 2008?
For that is seemingly the only way UCLA is going to be a very good Missouri team tonight. UCLA ranks tenth in the PAC 12 in scoring defense and Field Goal percentage defense. And it gets worse for this matchup, according to ESPN Missouri is the number one in the nation rebounding team.
Point Guard. Pressy v. Drew
Missouri's Point Guard can't shoot. But that is okay because his job is not to shoot and when he does Missouri is so incredible at rebounding it does not really hurt Missouri (According to the quote in jest below it may be a strategy). Phil Pressy shoots 34% from the field and from three but averages 6.3 assists per game. He is short (officially 5'11"), quick and the only player left from last year's Missouri team. Pressy is the team leader in every way and averages a team high 33 minutes a game.
He is a Bob Cousy Award candidate who owns the Missouri record for assists in a season. Pressy dad, Paul, was the "original point forward" in the NBA and currently an NBA assistant. Larry Drew II will have his work cut out against Pressy, who may be the best pure point guard he has played against this season. As ESPN wrote on their big win over # Illinois in which Pressy led despite shooting 3-19(emphasis mine):
He's the sort of player who doesn't have to score -- even if he's trying to score -- to impact a game. In Missouri's 82-73 win over Illinois in the Braggin' Rights game, Pressey proved to be the difference by pushing the ball, finding open teammates, defending well and being a leader.
. . ."Then he puts pressure on your defense in transition," [Illinois Coach] he said. "He's fast. Trying to get him corralled and under control isn't easy. We didn't do as good of a job as we wanted to do."
"Even though I was missing those shots, I felt like it was an opportunity for our bigs to clean up those misses," Pressey said. "My dad always told me if you can't pass, just throw it up and your big will get a rebound. When I see a big coming over, I know I have guys like Laurence and the rest of my bigs who can clean that up." . . .
"We can't let anyone know that's our game plan," Haith said.
Wing 1- Keion Bell v. Shabazz Muhammad
Bell is well known to UCLA fans having lit up UCLA in two games when he was playing for Pepperdine.
Missouri has a pair of California natives making the return home ... Senior guard Keion Bell is a Los Angeles native and played against UCLA during the 2010-11 season and scored 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting ... He also scored 22 points at Pauley as a sophomore in 2009-10.
Like Everyone for Missouri, Bell rebounds well. He is a solid player that was a star for Pepperdine against UCLA but more of a role player for Missouri. His being at home may work for him and pump him up for a big game.
Adams or Shabazz will likely match up with him.
Wing #2 Jabari Brown v. Jordan Adams
Brown is the other Californian on the team. He was the #19 recruit in the nation in 2011 but after starting two games for Oregon decided to transfer. (He played for Oakland soldiers, an AAU team, legendary for talented but often problematic players.) In his last game against a #10 ranked Illinois team in only his second game back and first start he was great with 18 points, including 3-7 from three.
Brown‘s game against Illinois has Missouri fans very excited and when he is in, Norman Powell will cover him. Otherwise Shabazz or Adams will likely struggle a bit against this talented player and hopefully take advantage of his inexperience on the defensive end.
The more interesting question may be can Bell and Brown match up against Shabazz and Adams. Bell is very experienced but Brown is only playing his fifth collegiate game so maybe Adams or Muhammad can take advantage. For UCLA to win they must.
Power Forward Laurence Bowers v. Kyle Anderson
Bowers is the star for Missouri. He leads Missouri in scoring and is the number two rebounder who can even block shots. Bowers can score inside where he shoots at 57% or outside where he is making (56% in 21 attempts). The 6'8" Bowers was hurt last season but the year before he was all Big 12 on defense. From his official bio on his last full season:
Coming off an outstanding junior season in which he was named honorable mention All-Big 12 and a Big 12 All-Defensive Team pick ... Made 27 starts and played in all 34 games, averaging 24.8 minutes per game ... Averaged 11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.8 blocks per game ... Made 52.9 percent of his shots ... Finished second in the Big 12 with 62 blocked shots, the third most in school history and the most-ever by a Tiger junior ... Blocked eight shots against Colorado on Jan. 8 to tie Arthur Johnson for the most rejections in a game by a Tiger ... Averaged 1.8 blocks per game, best at Mizzou since Johnson in 2002-03 ... Ranked 14th in the Big 12 Conference in rebounding with 6.1 per game, tops on the club ... Was a stat stuffer for the Tigers all season, recording 46 assists and 38 steals to go with his scoring, rebounding and blocked shot totals ... Recorded the first 20-point, nine-rebound, six-steal game in school history vs. Baylor ... Came back with 22 points, 10 boards and five steals in the home finale vs. Kansas ... Had three double-doubles on the season and six games with 17+ points.
Quite frankly this matchup is a nightmare for the Bruins. The best that can be said is Kyle will be getting an education matched up against him. Bowers may be the best player UCLA has played against this year. Maybe Howland will gamble and try someone else on him.
Center Alex Oriakhi v. Travis Wear
Oriakhi is the type of player that has given UCLA nightmares this year. Oriakhi is strictly an inside player but is the best rebounding player on the best rebounding team in the country. Given UCLA's recent problems with big guys close to the basket, Oriakhi could really dominate UCLA inside. ESPN's stat keeper will almost certainly have Oriakhi career high number ready as it may very well be broken tonight. He is use to "big games" as he is a senior transfer from Connecticut who was eligible to immediately play due to UCONN's problems.
Travis is quite frankly over matched on defense and the only good news is he could draw Oriakhi away from the basket when the Bruins are on offense.
Bench and Intangibles
Earnest Ross is a 6'5" wing who use to start before Brown was eligible. He is a threat from three and a very good rebounder. The latter sums up the Missouri Bench, they can all rebound.
A strange factor that could work in UCLA's favor is this is Missouri first road game of the season. They have played four neutral court games but have yet to play a true road game. Playing after Christmas after traveling across country, could work in UCLA's favor. If a big and loud crowd was present, UCLA could have a significant home court advantage.
Also, Drew said, upsetting Missouri would be, "a huge ray to our season. It would be good for us. We'll see what we're made out of."