UCLA-Missouri Will Prove if Bruins Are Back or Not

By Evan Barnes
Richard Mackson – USA Today Sports Images

UCLA has a nice and easy four-game winning streak to stave off the cries of worry about a wasted season. Now comes a reality check at home Friday against No. 7 Missouri.

For me it comes down to a simple battle. Can UCLA’s fabulous freshmen overcome Missouri’s stellar guard play? Can the Bruins attempt to outscore the Tigers or will their lack of perimeter defense be exposed again.

It’s the ultimate test for this new offense-first, defense-second Bruins. They’ve won games by finally running the ball and allowing Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams to thrive in the open court. Muhammad and Anderson have both looked more comfortable on the floor and have played like the high school All-Americans they were last year.

What they can’t do is try to play beyond themselves against Missouri, a guard-heavy, physical team. This is where Larry Drew II has to control the tempo. If the freshmen try to force shots, the Tigers will make them pay. The Bruins can make this close if they rely on great ball movement and creating easy shots but that’s easier said than done.

Missouri’s a tough match-up because of vets like Phil Pressey, one of the toughest lead guards in the country. Leading scorer Laurence Bowers and recent transfer Jabari Brown are excellent shooters that can break UCLA’s zone and big man Alex Oriakhi (9.1 rebounds per game) could make it hard for the Bruins to attack the basket or get many rebounds.

They’re the perfect team to make UCLA revert back to an average squad. In spite of their winning streak, the Bruins have given up big performances (27 pts to Long Beach State‘s Dan Jennings, 19 pts to Fresno State‘s Marvelle Harris). Bowers might be the next candidate to have a great night unless UCLA finds a way to have their best defensive performance of the season.

If they can manage to keep it close, I’ll be satisfied.  If they get blown out, I wouldn’t be surprised either. Either way, this will be the true test to see if UCLA has fixed most of their problems or masked them playing against weaker competition.

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