Pac-12 Game of the Week: Missouri at UCLAPosted by AMurawa on December 28th, 2012
As conference plays looms around the corner, the last real big game on the Pac-12 non-conference schedule tips off tonight at 7:00 PM PST on ESPN2 as the as-yet underachieving Bruins take on the Tigers, currently ranked #9 in the RTC Top 25. I’ll (@AMurawa) be on hand at Pauley Pavilion to report on the action, but in advance, let’s run down what to keep an eye on tonight.
Why It’s Important: While Missouri may have some solid wins on their non-conference resume (Virginia Commonwealth, Illinois and Stanford), UCLA is very much in need of heading into conference play with something positive in the rear view mirror. While they’re riding a four-game winning streak now and the offense has picked up over most of that stretch, defensively they are still struggling. And Missouri’s efficient offensive, run by playmaker par excellence Phil Pressey, is going to give the Bruins all the test they want. The hyped freshman class of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams has been explosive, but they’ll need to prove their toughness tonight in order to establish any national cred.
Missouri Player to Watch – Phil Pressey: The point has been made before, but I don’t mind repeating it: Pressey is the type of player who can, even in the midst of a poor shooting night, have a positive effect on his team on both ends of the court. The most recent example of such came on Saturday when Pressey missed his first 15 shots, wound up just 3-of-19 from the field (and an oh-fer from behind the arc) and yet was still almost universally regarded as the most important player in the Tigers’ nine-point win over Illinois. Why? Because his ability to create good looks for his teammates (and yes, part of that is being a constant threat to shoot the ball) is almost unparalleled. He hands out assists on better than 32% of his teammates baskets, good for better than six assists per night. Given UCLA’s record of struggling to stop penetration, priority number one for Ben Howland and his senior point guard Larry Drew II will be slowing Pressey, forcing bad shots and making other players beat them.
UCLA Player to Watch – Shabazz Muhammad: After an injury in the offseason and time on the sideline due to an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, Muhammad got off to something of a slow start to his college career. But, he’s still scored in double figures in every game he’s played, and he’s averaged better than 24 points per night in his last three games, admittedly against lesser competition. Simply put, Muhammad knows how to put the ball through the hoop. But, in order for UCLA to win this game, he’ll need to do more than that. First, he’s shown at times a tendency to hunt shots; he’ll need to limit himself to good shots while still being aggressive and allow his offensively capable teammates to score when he’s locked up. Secondly, with the Bruins’ defensive struggles evident, Muhammad needs to commit himself to locking up his man defensively, while still remaining aware of the chance to provide help defense. And lastly, against one of the better rebounding teams in the nation, Muhammad will need to help out Anderson and the Wear twins on the glass. We know you can score Shabazz, time to show us a more complete game.
Match-up to Watch – the Glass: Last Saturday night against Fresno State was the first time since early in the season that UCLA was really successful on the glass. They controlled the defensive glass and made a big splash on the offensive end, grabbing nearly 50% of offensive rebound opportunities. But Missouri will present a much bigger challenge. The Tigers are fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding, snatching better than 44.4% of their own misses. In their four games against big-time competition (Stanford, Louisville, VCU and Illinois), that number has only dipped down to 42.6%. Just as important, they’ve controlled the defensive glass against those teams, grabbing better than 75% of the other team’s misses (a number that would put them at #13 in the nation). Between Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers and a host of athletic wings, Missouri is going to crash the glass. For UCLA to have a chance to stay in this game, they’ll need to sell out hard to, at the very least, limit Missouri’s second chance opportunities.
Other Notes: Missouri’s Tony Criswell, a 6’9” junior forward who plays roughly 50% of the team’s minutes off of the bench and who trails only Alex Oriakhi as the team’s best offensive rebounder, will miss the game with a broken finger… These teams have met six times in history, with UCLA winning five of the six games. It is the last two that most will remember, however. The second-to-last meeting came in the Round of 32 in 1995 when Tyus Edney went the length of the floor in 4.8 seconds to keep UCLA’s title run alive and rip out the hearts of Missouri fans. But, Missouri earned some revenge in 2002, knocking off the Bruins in the Sweet Sixteen.
Prediction – Missouri 92, UCLA 77: It’s the pick I made in our weekly pick ‘em contest, and I’m standing by it. UCLA has done nothing yet to indicate that they ready to defend at an elite level, and while they can certainly score at a great rate, I can’t see them getting enough stops against Missouri’s talented offensive players to keep this thing close in the second half. Throw in the fact that the Wear twins will likely get eaten alive by Oriakhi, et al. and I just can’t see the Bruins seriously competing in this game. And, if that happens, expect to hear UCLA blogs howling for Howland’s head.