After the first half, junior guard Jordan Clarkson led the team with 17 points. But that was about it, as only one other Tiger scored more than nine points. Subsequently, Missouri trailed by eight at halftime, its largest deficit of the year.
But in the second half, guards Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross came alive, and freshman forward Johnathan Williams III played his best all-around game of the season. Missouri outscored UCLA by 17 in the second half, leading to an 80-71 win over the No. 18 Bruins.
After going 1-5 from 3-point range in the first half, Brown drove the lane consistently in the second half, especially with UCLA pressing midway through the half. Brown’s aggressiveness resulted in 10 points off free throws, finishing with 22 points overall.
“My shots weren’t falling from 3 early in the first half and a little bit in the second,” Brown said. “I try to do everything out there, so I was just trying to attack and when they were pressuring, trying to get to the basket to punish them for pressing.”
Ross led the Tigers in second half points, totaling 14 in the final frame on 5-11 shooting from beyond the 3-point line. He finished with 21 points, his second 20-point game of the year,
“Coach (Frank) Haith, just believing in me, just telling me to continue to shoot,” Ross said. “I didn’t really knock too many shots down early in the first half, but just shooting and just to find my rhythm.”
Williams played arguably his most complete game of his young career, finishing with 10 points and game-highs in rebounds and blocks with 15 and two, respectively.
“He was outstanding,” Haith said. “He did everything on the stat line.”
Williams made his presence known on the defensive end as well, due mostly to his speed, according to Haith.
“J is not physically, in terms of just ‘girthy’ and weight wise, the UCLA guys are much bigger, but he’s quicker,” he said. “When you’re playing a guy that’s bigger than you like that physically, in your quickness, you need to do your work early, and I thought he did a real good job of that and not allowing deep, deep post position.”
Missouri dominated the glass, out-rebounding UCLA 47-30 overall.
Turnovers hurt Missouri in the first half, as the Bruins finished the period plus-six in the department. They made the Tigers pay, too, outscoring them 12-6 in the period. Missouri cleaned it up in the second, with each team turning the ball over just four times.
“We turned the ball over way too much in the first half, so they got a lot of live-ball turnovers and executing a lot of easy buckets in transition in the first half,” Haith said. “I thought once we were able to set our defense and settle down and guard, we were going to be OK.”
The win marked Missouri’s 79th straight non-conference home win, dating back to November 2005. Overall, the Tigers have won 24-straight games at Mizzou Arena, the longest active winning streak in NCAA division I basketball.