Missouri-UCLA Preview

The Associated Press

Missouri's veterans have led the team's charge to a No. 7 ranking so far in what has the potential to be a special season.

UCLA seems to be finding its footing behind its trio of star freshmen.

The Tigers seek a seventh straight victory Friday night in their first visit to Pauley Pavilion in 37 years.

Senior Laurence Bowers and junior Phil Pressey are two of the catalysts behind Missouri's 10-1 start, with Bowers averaging a team-high 16.9 points and Pressey adding 12.3 per game to go with 6.3 assists.

They each posted double-doubles while helping lead the Tigers to an 82-73 win over then-No. 10 Illinois on Saturday. Bowers finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds while Pressey overcame a 3-for-19 shooting performance to score 12 points and add a season-best 11 assists.

Missouri has won six straight since falling 84-61 to then-No. 2 Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Nov. 23.

"It was a good test for us," Pressey said after the Tigers handed the Illini their first loss. "But we've got to put this behind us and go on to UCLA."

The Bruins (9-3) have been ranked as high as No. 11, in large part due to Ben Howland's stellar recruiting class that included Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson.

They've battled through early struggles - including an embarrassing 70-68 home loss to Cal Poly on Nov. 25 that dropped them out of the Top 25 - but have won four in a row after beating Fresno State 91-78 on Saturday.

Muhammad (27), Adams (25) and Anderson (20) became the first freshman trio in UCLA history to record 20 points or more in a single game. Muhammad is averaging 24.3 points while shooting 55.3 percent over his last three, and Adams has shot 18 for 25 from the field with 49 points over his last two.

"We're really doing a good job on the offensive end," Muhammad said. "We've been playing really well and we're going to continue to play really well.''

Point guard Larry Drew II, in his first season with the Bruins after transferring from North Carolina, has been the main facilitator for the freshmen. He's averaging 8.5 assists, tied for second in the nation behind only Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams (10.3).

"Larry Drew II was phenomenal offensively in distributing the ball and taking care of the ball," Howland told the school's official website after Saturday's win. "Kyle Anderson's numbers were great. He was just three assists shy of a triple-double. Jordan and Shabazz both had good games for us, especially in the second half."

Missouri, which lost its previous two trips to UCLA in 1970 and 1975, has won 25 straight games in December and has held opponents to an SEC-best 35.6 percent shooting this season.

The Tigers hope to get another solid performance from Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, who scored 18 points in his second game with the team while replacing Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell in the starting lineup.

"As we move forward, guys begin to understand their role," coach Frank Haith said. "Guys have to understand that when your number's called, you've got to be ready to play."

Missouri beat UCLA 82-73 in the regional semifinals of the 2002 NCAA tournament in the most recent meeting.

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