Missouri comes into New Pauley Pavilion off of a hard fought 82-73 victory over Illinois in their annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis.
UCLA is on a season-high four-game win streak, and comes in off of a 91-78 win over Fresno State. With four highly-touted freshmen among their eight scholarship players, the Bruins are just now beginning to develop a winning formula for this season.
Following a three-game suspension to open the season of leading scorer and freshman sensation, in 6’6” 225-pound G/F Shabazz Muhammad, Bruins Head Coach Ben Howland recently granted requested transfer releases to a pair of juniors in Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb.
Now that UCLA knows who’s in and who’s out on their roster, Coach Howland’s Bruins are getting it together. There’s playing time for everyone, and Missouri and Frank Haith know full well what you can accomplish with eight quality scholarship players.
The NBA-bound Muhammad is scoring 18.8 points/game, and grabbing 5 rebounds/game. He’s making half of his shots overall, and 48% of his 3-PT attempts. Physically, he’s a difficult match-up for anyone on the college level.
Another freshman, 6’5” 220-pound G Jordan Adams, is scoring 18.2 points/game and pulling down 4.3 rebounds/game. Adams is making 51% of his shots, and for a freshman he’s doing a good job of taking care of the basketball. Nearly half of Adams’ field goal attempts come from behind the 3-PT line, where he’s shooting a respectable 37%. However, in his last two games, Adams is hitting 63% of his 3-PT attempts.
The third freshman in Coach Howland’s starting lineup is 6’9” 235-pound Kyle Anderson, who leads the Bruins in rebounding (8.7 rebounds/game), and steals (1.8 steals/game). His 4.0 assists/game, and 2:1 assist/turnover ratio are both second on UCLA. Anderson’s also scoring 9.0 points/game. For good reason, he rarely shoots the three.
In UCLA’s 91-78 win over Fresno State last Saturday, Muhammad led UCLA with a season-best 27 points, Adams scored 25 points, and Anderson posted season-highs with 20 points and 17 rebounds. A third of the way in to their freshmen seasons, this outstanding trio has completed the transition to the college game, and they now form the nucleus of a very talented and fast-rising team.
In addition to the freshmen, UCLA’s starting lineup includes two of a trio of transfers from North Carolina, including one of the top point guards in the country in fifth-year senior Larry Drew II. The 6’2” 180-pound Drew is the son of the Missouri All-American, and current Atlanta Hawks Head Coach of the same name. He grew up in the Los Angeles area, where his dad played and coached for many years with the Lakers. The younger Drew is averaging 8.5 assists, and 5.9 points per game. He has a 5.4 assist/turnover ratio on the season. He can make shots, but he just doesn’t shoot a lot. He’s getting it to his talented teammates, instead.
The fifth starter is 6’10” 230-pound junior F Travis Ware, who transferred back home to Southern California from North Carolina along with his twin brother David. Travis averages 10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest. David averages 7.8 points/game and 4.7 rebounds/game off of Coach Howland’s bench.
The fourth freshman for UCLA is 6’9” 275-pound Tony Parker, an inside player who’s been coming off of the bench for about 9 minutes/game.
The final piece of UCLA’s 8-man playing rotation is 6’4” 215-pound sophomore G Norman Powell, a perimeter threat who comes off the bench to score 8.9 points/game. Half of Powell’s field goal attempts are three-pointers, and on the season, he’s hitting 35% from behind the arc.
As you can see, UCLA has great size, and playing with an 8-man rotation is not a handicap for the talented Bruins. Drew averages 34 minutes/game, and is the Bruins’ only real point guard, so he’s just about irreplaceable. Sound familiar?
Thanks to Drew, the Bruins have a 1.56 assist/turnover ratio. But excluding Drew, the rest of the Bruins collectively have more turnovers than assists.
UCLA is shooting an impressive 48% on the season, and 35% from behind the arc. The Bruins also have a 6.2 rebounding advantage over their combined opponents, who have shot 41% from the field this season.
The Bruins have lost to the only two ranked teams they’ve faced this season, Georgetown and San Diego State. Those were single-digit losses on neutral courts. They also lost a close one at home to Cal Poly. But, UCLA is a rapidly-improving team of very talented young players. They have tremendous size, to go along with talented perimeter scorers. Drew and the Ware twins account for most of their experience. Muhammad appears to be a lock to be a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft, and some have him projected as high as the first overall pick. If the Bruins have a weakness, it's on the defensive end, where they're good, but maybe not yet quite as sound as a typical Ben Howland-coached team.
Missouri is the highest-ranked team that the Bruins have faced to date, so there’s plenty of motivation for UCLA to play well in this nationally televised Friday night encounter.