The key elements in the game were probably Missouri's defense and its ability to hit the 3-point shot in the second half. The Tigers were a very mediocre defensive team during the regular season, but played excellent d in their first two NCAA games. They did it again last night, holding the Bruins to 40% for the evening and limiting Jason Kapono to 3-8 shooting as Jason found himself shackled wrist and ankle to athletic 6-5 Ricky Paulding and often facing double-teams whenever his teammates got him the ball or tried to get him the ball. The massive Johnson was able to contain Big Dan straight up and this enabled Mizzou to keep the Bruins from both exploiting Dan inside and getting Jason good looks at the basket. The Bruins were only 3-17 from 3 for the game.
On the other hand, the Tigers, after going 3-10 from 3 in the first half, went 7-13 from behind the arc in the second half. That many 3s will kill anybody and it certainly killed the Bruins. Kareem Rush was truly nasty, firing in several fade away 3s with a man right in his face. Paulding kept the Tigers going in the first half with a pair of treys of his own, but Rush and Gilbert took over the second half, with Gilbert scoring 17 points and Rush 16 in the final 20 minutes. They were also a combined 7-8 from 3 in the second half.
The Bruins stayed in the hunt until the final 6 minutes mainly behind the offensive play of Matt Barnes, who scored 16 points in the second half himself, en route to 23 for the game. Matt hit 3s, scored off short hooks after drives and post up moves and got up on the offensive glass, playing one of his better games of the season. Billy Knight was cold from outside, but he scored well off dribble moves inside and also got out on the break after Tiger turnovers. UCLA's defense also kept them in the game, as they forced 20 Missouri mistakes and converted off several of them. The Bruins also did a good job on the offensive glass in the first half, though Missouri returned the favor in the second half.
Both teams played poorly in an ugly first half. Missouri grabbed an early lead, UCLA got it back on a Ryan Walcott 3, the Bruins forged ahead slightly and after several changes of momentum took a 26-20 lead and seemed poised to break out. The Tigers responded with a 10-2 run and finished the first half up 30-28. Missouri was making a lot of turnovers and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from 3, but the Bruins barely hit 30% of their own FG attempts as well. The Bruins started out the game in a man d, but eventually settled back into their zone. Mizzou went man for the whole game.
The Bruins opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run to regain the lead. Missouri made another charge, but then a series of Tiger turnovers and 9 straight points from Matt Barnes at one stage boosted UCLA's lead to 49-41. That was the highpoint for the game for the UCLA. Lavin rested Barnes at that point, Rush and Gilbert began pouring in 3s and Johnson took Gadzuric to school underneath the basket. The Bruins played their tall zone and their quick man, but nothing worked to cool off Rush and Gilbert. Unfortunately, all of the man d forced Dan to play behind Johnson and the Tigers took advantage of that. Barnes was only out for about a minute and a half, but couldn't seem to get it going again even though Mizzou continued to fade on Jason.
I would guess that if these teams played a 10-game series, UCLA would win 6 times. Right now, the Tigers are the hotter team. Like the Bruins, they were a preseason top 5-10 pick by most media sources. Both teams didn't play their best last night. UCLA was definitely in a position to win after 30 minutes, but seemed to run out of gas when Matt went out of the game and Missouri heated up from the outside and Johnson started scoring inside as well. The Bruins needed someone else besides Matt to really step up. He couldn't beat Rush, Gilbert and Johnson by himself. Billy had a very solid game, but scored most of his points off breaks and offensive rebounds. The Bruins needed another scorer on the floor and couldn't find him. I also thought that Lavin might've stuck with his main guys too long. Matt, Jason, Dan and Billy all seemed to tire after the 30-minute mark, and that was especially noticeable on the defensive end and under the glass, where UCLA no longer had the huge rebounding advantage it enjoyed in the first half. It's true that Dijon and TJ had not been very productive on offense, but both rebounded well and Lavin didn't use them as part of an integrated second unit either. Monday morning quarterbacking is so much fun, even on a Friday…
Matt, as noted, finished with 23 points, plus 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Billy had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals, but was 0-4 from 3. Dan got 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in a solid performance, but he was outplayed for the maybe the first NCAA game in his career. Ced registered 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers. Jason wound up with 7 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. Ryan added 6 points and 1 assist off the bench. TJ had 2 points and 4 rebounds in just 7 minutes. Dijon failed to score in 14 minutes, going 0-4 from the field, but had 3 rebounds. Andre Patterson added a rebound in 5 minutes.
Gilbert had 23 and Rush 20 for the Tigers. Kareem also had 9 rebounds and 4 assists and probably would've looked pretty good in a Bruin uniform. The massive Johnson played perhaps the best game of his career with 14 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists. He dominated the glass at both ends in the second half and might've been the real difference maker in the game. Paulding, a budding star, got 15 points. Travon Bryant, formerly of Long Beach Jordan, had 7 rebounds, and former Long Beach Poly star Wesley Stokes got 6 points and 3 assists in just 14 minutes. Justin Gage added 2 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists and very good defense in a nice performance off the bench.
UCLA finishes the season at 21-12. This is the 4th time in the last 5 years that the Bruins have made it to the Sweet 16 but failed to advance beyond that point. I was disappointed and bitter after the game because I felt this was UCLA's best chance to get to the Final 4 since Lavin's first season, but I'm taking a new "membrane stabilizer" that's supposed to heal the damaged nerves in my legs and back but it just puts me to sleep so I became unconscious immediately after the game ended and didn't wake up until this morning and now I don't feel so bitter, though I'm still disappointed. The Tigers were just better than we were last night. End of story.
This was the final UCLA game for Billy Knight, Matt Barnes and Dan Gadzuric. Rico Hines played his last game against Cincinnati. Now, we await Jason Kapono's decision...