LOS ANGELES — Seventh-ranked Missouri expected to be tested by UCLA in the Tigers’ first true road game Friday, and that’s exactly what happened.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
As it turns out, not even an outstanding all-around performance by junior point guard Phil Pressey — who finished with team-high 19 points and a school-record 19 assists — could keep the Tigers from falling to UCLA 97-94 in overtime at Pauley Pavilion.
Pressey put on a show in front of a national television audience, shattering MU’s previous single-game assists record of 13, held by Stefhon Hannah and Melvin Booker, and flirting with the NCAA record of 22, held by three players.
That wasn’t enough to hold off the young-but-talented Bruins, who started three freshman and gamely rallied back from an 86-77 deficit with a little under six minutes left to win its fifth straight game and hand Missouri its second loss of the season.
“We made some really gambling plays and that really cost us,” Haith said of his team, which scored only two points over the final five minutes, 34 seconds of regulation. “We need to learn how to finish a game out in the last three minutes.”
Missouri is the team loaded with upperclassmen – the Tigers boast a starting lineup with three seniors – but it was UCLA that closed the game out, thanks in large part to star freshman swingman Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2012 according to Rivals.com. He certainly lived up to his billing, scoring a game-high 27 points and making a pair of key three-pointers in overtime to lead his team to victory.
“We are such a better team since the Cal Poly game,” said Muhammad, UCLA’s leading scorer at over 19 points per game. “We have really played better defense. As you can see from the box score, we are all very talented offensive players.”
UCLA shot 50.6 percent from the field against the Tigers and had four players in double figures, including junior forwards Travis Wear (22 points) and David Wear (16 points) and freshman guard Jordan Adams (12 points).
All of them made key plays down the stretch, after Pressey made an impressive bid to almost single-handedly deliver MU’s first big road win of the season. With UCLA leading 77-74 with a little under nine minutes left, Pressey – who had 12 assists in the first half alone – made two quick baskets, including an open three that put the Tigers ahead by two.
MU extended its lead with slams by Bell and Ross off steals on consecutive possessions, and the Tigers appeared to seize the momentum when they capped the 12-0 run with a three-point play by senior forward Laurence Bowers (17 points, nine rebounds) that made the score 86-77 with a little under six minutes left to play.
UCLA would not go quietly. The Bruins went on a 9-0 run, courtesy of two MU turnovers, a scoring drought that lasted roughly four minutes and baskets by Muhammad, Adams and David Wear, ultimately tying the score at 86-86 with a little under two minutes left.
Bowers responded with a slam that put the Tigers ahead by two, but after both teams failed to score on ensuing possessions, UCLA tied the score when freshman guard Jordan Adams made a running layup with 10 seconds left.
Missouri got the ball back, and UCLA used all of its fouls – including a hard one on Pressey that was not ruled intentional – until the Tigers got one last chance to score with 4 seconds left. But sophomore guard Jabari Brown (14 points) fumbled the inbounds pass, and a last-second heave by Keion Bell (17 points) was off-the-mark, sending the game into overtime.
Neither team score in the first two minutes of the five-minute overtime period, but Muhammad ignited the crowd with a three-pointer that gave the Bruins a 91-88 lead with three minutes left. Missouri answered on Brown’s contested three, but the Tigers blew a chance to take the lead when Bell – an LA native who scored 11 straight MU points in the first half – blew a wide-open layup.
MU junior forward Earnest Ross (16 points) made two free throws shortly after, but a free throw by Muhammad cut UCLA’s deficit to one, and after Brown missed a long three, the Bruins made the Tigers pay as point guard Larry Drew II (eight points, ten assists) found Muhammad wide-open for a three that gave UCLA a 95-93 lead.
“Larry trusts me on that shot,” Muhammad said, “so I took it.”
Ross followed by splitting a pair of free throws with around 40 seconds left that cut the deficit to one, but Travis Wear made a fadeaway jumper with 12 seconds left, putting UCLA ahead 97-94. It was enough, as two last-second heaves by Pressey and Bowers fell off the mark.
“The play (in overtime) was for Earnest (Ross) on a screen but Phil (Pressey) took the shot off a ball screen action and he didn’t make it,” Haith said.
It was a thrilling-yet-disappointing ending for Missouri, which outrebounded UCLA 50-36 but turned the ball over 17 times compared to UCLA’s six. This ultimately led to UCLA racking up 36 points off turnovers compared to Missouri’s 11.
The 97 points is the most Missouri has allowed in a game all season, and the most the Tigers have allowed since an 88-87 win at Baylor last January. Before Friday, Missouri hadn’t allowed more than 73 points to an opponent since its 84-61 loss to Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 23.
“We just didn’t execute, they made a lot of shots,” Bowers said. “The Wear twins played great, Shabazz played great. They had a lot of confidence.”
Pressey said UCLA hurt Missouri with its athleticism in transition, though the Bruins only scored eight fast-break points.
“They killed us in transition,” Pressey said. “I feel like we gave up way too many easy baskets.”
It was also a bitter ending for Pressey, who now has 30 assists combined in his last two games. On Friday he fell three shy of the NCAA single-game assists record held by Sherman Douglas (Syracuse), Tony Fairley (Charleston Southern) and Avery Johnson (Southern).
“Pressey brought his ‘A’ game tonight,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland.
Pressey, as usual, credited his teammates.
“The guys were finding open spots and I was finding them,” Pressey said. “I have a unique type of game, and it’s going to take time for my teammates to learn how to cut and find the open spots. I really feel like we’re growing together.”
Neither that nor the single-game assist record proved to be much consolation for Pressey on this night.
“It’s big,” Pressey said of the record, “but it doesn’t mean anything with the loss.”
The Tigers return to the court Jan. 5, when they play host Bucknell at 3 p.m. in their final nonconference game. MU’s Southeastern Conference season begins at home against Alabama on Jan. 8, and by the looks of it, Friday’s loss highlighted plenty of areas of potential improvement as the Tigers prepare for the meat of their schedule.
“We will learn from it,” Haith said of the loss. “There is a lot of basketball left in the season.”