LOS ANGELES — Midwesterners often jokingly refer to Missouri as “misery” and that’s exactly what it was for UCLA when the Bruins were handed their first lost of the season last week in Columbia. It was the toughest challenge the team has faced yet and the first true road trip, and the results, while not positive, were educational – in more ways than one.
“Missouri was really cold,” said freshman Zach LaVine. “I don’t want to go back there. When I stepped off the plane and felt the air I turned back around and wanted to go back to UCLA.”
Other than a lesson on the unpredictability of the Midwestern weather, the Bruins also learned a lot about what their game looks like when they get away from fundamentals and are forced to play from behind.
Mizzou exposed a glaring inefficiency in their rebounding game, as they were out-worked on the boards by 17 rebounds. Jordan Adams managed 10 and Kyle Anderson grabbed six but other than those two, no other Bruin had more than three.
“I didn’t think we handled that well,” said head coach Steve Alford. “Board play (was exposed), which we knew was an issue even though we’ve been plus-nine most of the year. That’s an issue. And that’s something that we’ve got to continue to emphasize and continue to work on.”
A dismal second half saw the Bruins shoot just 25 percent, and once a physical Tigers team got ahead the Bruins were unable to adjust.
“We’re going to be behind again, or we’re not going to lead all game,” Alford said. “And then I think in the second half, I think it’s the first time we got away from executing on offense. We didn’t take the shots that normally we’ve been taking. I thought we took some really poor shots in the second half and we really talked about that.
“We’ve got to stay within the system of knowing our spacing and what kind of shot we want to take. It doesn’t mean we slow down, but it means our thought process of what shot we want to take.”
This week, the Bruins are focused on finals but will have four practices this week before facing Prarie View A&M at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Now that they’ve been upset by one unranked team they don’t plan on seeing a similar fate, even if it is a low-major opponent.
“Playing in NCAA Division I basketball, everyone can beat everyone,” LaVine said. “You’ve got to respect your opponent.”
“We don’t really talk about or get into opponents as much as we do, what do our opponents do, what do we have to be prepared for that,” Alford said. “I played for Coach (Bobby) Knight. There was never a time in my four-year career where I thought one game ahead.”
The good news is the team is relatively injury-free. Wanaah Bail is slowly working back into game action and Alford had no other injuries to report.
“We’re pretty healthy physically,” Alford said. “We’ll see after finals how mentally healthy we are.”