COLUMBIA — Earnest Ross sank only one of his four three-point attempts in the first half, and one of the misses was a deep shot Missouri coach Frank Haith deemed a “heat-check moment.”
By GEOFFREY CALVERT
Special to The Star
But Haith told Ross to keep shooting, and it paid off in the second half.
Ross hit two of his five three-pointers on consecutive possessions about 5 minutes into the second half, helping Missouri erase an eight-point halftime deficit and defeat No. 18 UCLA 80-71 Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“I was just shooting because I knew once I get hot it was pretty cool,” Ross said. “I was shooting open threes, so as the guards were driving I would just head to the corners or to the top of the key and knock down open shots.”
The back-to-back three-pointers capped a 12-1 run and gave Missouri a 51-50 lead — its first since going up 17-16 in the first half — but Ross wasn’t finished.
With just fewer than 7 minutes remaining, the Tigers held a 64-62 lead when Jabari Brown swished a three. After UCLA missed the front end of a one-and-one, Ross sank another crucial three, giving the Tigers an eight-point lead that wouldn’t dip below six points again.
“We were much better shooting the ball because we ran our offense in the second half and we played inside-out,” Haith said. “We had player movement. We had ball movement. When you take those shots off of that, then those are great shots for me.”
Brown led Missouri with 22 points, while Jordan Clarkson scored 21 and Ross scored 20, the third time this season all three have reached the 20-point plateau.
The victory kept Missouri undefeated at 9-0, while the Bruins fell to 8-1. Missouri also extended its nation-best home-court winning streak to 24 games and its nonconference home-court winning streak to 79 games.
For a while in the first half, extending the streak was not a foregone conclusion.
The Tigers committed 12 turnovers in the half, which UCLA converted into 15 points. The Bruins also matched Missouri with five three-pointers in the half.
But Missouri committed only six turnovers in the second half, and the Bruins didn’t make another three after the first 13 minutes of the first half.
“I think we were just trying to move a little bit too fast, not taking our time on some passes,” Brown said of the turnovers. “They’re long and athletic, so they were in the passing lanes. We just had to slow down.”
As Missouri’s offense erased UCLA’s lead in the second half, the Bruins couldn’t find the bucket for long stretches. After a basket with 18:48 remaining, UCLA didn’t convert another field-goal attempt until 10:19 remained. The Bruins made only four field goals in the first 16 minutes of the second half and relied on 11 free throws during that stretch to stay in the game.
Haith credited his offense taking care of the ball in the second half as the reason Missouri kept UCLA’s offense dormant in the final period.
“We turned the ball over way too much in the first half, so they got a lot of live-ball turnovers and a lot of easy buckets in transition the first half,” Haith said. “I thought once we were able to set our defense and guard we were going to be OK.”