The weekend before final exams begin at UCLA, the basketball team has already faced its first big test.
A road game. An undefeated opponent. A national television audience.
And the No. 18 Bruins clearly failed.
After starting out hot in the first half, they turned as cold as the Midwestern winter and lost to Missouri, 80-71, at Mizzou Arena on Saturday.
“We kind of got out of our game,” forward David Wear said. “Just weren’t playing our style at all.”
There was a lot not to like about the Bruins’ first loss of the season, but Coach Steve Alford pointed his finger at a normally potent offense gone stagnant.
“We had one assist in the second half,” he said. “That hasn’t happened to us all year.”
Missouri stayed perfect at 9-0 by repaying an old debt: The Tigers brought a nationally ranked team into Pauley Pavilion last season and lost in overtime.
“Obviously, this is a great win for us,” Coach Frank Haith said Saturday.
Coming into the game, Missouri figured to hold an edge in the areas of physical play and defense.
Yet the Bruins (8-1) found early success with tough defense of their own, mixing the zone with man-to-man coverage and forcing turnovers. Midway through the first half, they put together a 14-0 run sparked by freshmen Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine.
LaVine later took off on a fastbreak and, checking behind him to ensure the coast was clear, unleashed a windmill dunk that put his team up by 10 points.
Even with Missouri making a string of late three-pointers, UCLA led, 43-35, at halftime.
“We turned the ball over way too much,” Haith said of the first 20 minutes. “So there were a lot of buckets in transition.”
The Tigers made key adjustments. Haith wanted to stop UCLA guard Kyle Anderson from penetrating and passing off. He wanted his team to rebound harder and take away three-point looks.
UCLA guard Jordan Adams noticed the difference as the second half began, especially on the glass.
“They just beat us there first,” he said.
And that’s when the Bruins stopped moving the ball on offense, their usual fast pace grinding to a halt with too many poor shot selections.
The numbers tell it all. UCLA couldn’t get past that single assist and made just 26% of its shots in the second half.
The Tigers, meanwhile, were on their way to a 47-30 rebounding edge and a big day for guards Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross.
“It’s the first time we’ve had to match really physicalness with our guards,” Alford said.
Missouri’s backcourt trio scored 20 or more points each with a combination of transition baskets and 42% shooting from three-point range.
“We should have been talking more, trying to get a hand up to contest those shots,” Wear said. “They were just killing us.”
There was no offensive surge to save the Bruins, who fell behind for good with 9:33 remaining and finished well short of their 90-point average. Adams led the team with 22 points, with Anderson and LaVine adding 13 each.
The players now have a week to take final exams and figure out what went wrong. Anderson expects ball movement to be a point of emphasis in practice.
“We’ve just got to get better at that,” he said. “We’re a young team, and that’s going to come along.”
Another road game looms on the horizon, a trip to New York to face Duke this month. The Bruins have much work to do before their next test.