UCLA has spent four straight weeks with the AP’s top ranking, but the Bruins still aren’t satisfied they are as good as they could be.
Heading into the team’s final stretch of non-conference games, UCLA looks to work on its perceived weaknesses as it faces Sam Houston State on Tuesday at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA (9-0) stayed perfect with a 74-53 win over Oakland, Michigan, on Saturday. Darren Collison scored 15 points and Arron Afflalo added 14 for the Bruins, who shot 50.9 percent from the field following what coach Ben Howland said was a difficult stretch for his team.
“It was a long week,” he said. “We had guys studying (for finals), staying up late, and a tough game at the Wooden Classic.”
The team was coming off its closest game of the season, a 65-62 victory over then-No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday, a contest that showed Howland areas where his Bruins needed to improve and areas they were again exploited after being outrebounded for the second straight game, this time 38-33 by the Grizzlies.
“We’ve been out-boarded two weeks in a row now,” Howland said. “If we continue to get beat on the boards, we are going to lose.”
The team also continued its struggles at the foul line, going 10-of-18 (55.6 percent) after going 8-of-16 the previous week. UCLA is shooting 59.8 percent at the line—the worst in the Pac-10.
Josh Shipp, who had 13 points and six rebounds Saturday, was the biggest offender, going 3-of-7. The team’s second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, is shooting 67.7 at the free throw line for the season.
“Sometimes I play around in practice,” Shipp said Howland told him during the game. “I need to get more serious.”
UCLA and No. 8 Wichita State are the only unbeaten teams in the Top 10. The Bruins face Michigan on Saturday in their non-conference season finale before opening their conference schedule on Dec. 28 against Washington State.
This will be UCLA’s first time facing Sam Houston State (6-4), which is coming off a 70-62 overtime loss to UC-Irvine on Saturday. Jejuan Plair led the Bearkats with 16 points and Jeremy Thomas added 10 off the bench. Ryan Bright, who leads the team in scoring with 16 points per game, was held to a season-low six points.
Sam Houston State didn’t score in the first four minutes of either half and shot just 27 percent for the game. Still, the Bearkats nearly stole a victory in regulation, but Plair missed a layup at the buzzer.
This is just the third time in school history that the Bearkats have faced a Pac-10 opponent. They lost to Arizona State 85-81 in overtime in 1996 and to Arizona 87-51 last year.
“Obviously, playing a storied program like UCLA in Pauley Pavilion is a tremendous thrill for the players and coaches alike,” coach Bob Marlin said. “UCLA is a very disciplined team and they know how to change gears if they need to. This is going to be a great experience for everyone involved.”
Sam Houston State is 0-6 against ranked teams since the start of the 1996-97 season, while the Bruins are 124-3 at home all-time when ranked No. 1.