Bell eager for game in LA with Missouri men's basketball team

Friday, December 28, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:40 a.m. CST, Friday, December 28, 2012
Missouri guard Keion Bell goes for a slam dunk during the second half of the game against Northwest Missouri State on Oct. 29 at Mizzou Arena.

LOS ANGELES — For the first time, Keion Bell won't be entering UCLA's Pauley Pavilion as an underdog.

Bell, a Los Angeles native and a transfer on the Missouri men's basketball team, remembers playing UCLA twice during his time at Pepperdine, only to be defeated by double digits.

Now, as a Tiger, Bell has a much more optimistic outlook about playing the Bruins. Bell will be wearing a Missouri uniform for the first time in his hometown. Bell also has a much better chance of coming out with a victory this year, playing for the nation's No. 7-ranked team.

"We were going into it (UCLA) as underdogs by a long shot," Bell said of his time at Pepperdine. "Going in there just with a chance of coming out victorious, and going to LA and playing in front of my family is big."

Having better odds of defeating UCLA, doesn't guarantee a victory or even mean an easy game.  

Coach Frank Haith said Missouri has to be alert on defense because of UCLA's quick transition offense.

"We got to be on our game come Friday. They're a very talented offensive team," Haith said. "We have to get back and set our defense … If we're not getting back and finding those guys to stop the ball, its going to be a long night."

The Bruins are coming off a season-high four-game winning streak and are hungry for a victory against a high-ranking team to enter conference play with momentum.

The wins have helped the young UCLA team build chemistry. UCLA is No. 6 in the nation in assists.

Larry Drew II, a senior point guard and the son of former Missouri player Larry Drew, is averaging 8.5 assists per game, on a UCLA squad full of freshmen.

"Now they have their team in place for a couple weeks, you start to see them play better," Haith said. "Particularly on their offensive end, their numbers are really really good.

"Drew's turnover numbers have to be one of the best in the country … he makes perfect passes."

The teams are about even on the scoring end. Missouri averages 78.2 points per game, UCLA averages 79.6.

Missouri will have to use its rebounding talents in the game Friday. Missouri is now the best rebounding team in the nation after the game against Illinois last week. The Tigers average 47.2 rebounds a game.

The Bruins used practice over Christmas to work on their rebounding.

"They're killing opponents on the glass," UCLA coach Ben Howland said about the Tigers by phone Wednesday. "It was stunning to me, their rebound numbers."

Missouri will be without junior forward Tony Criswell because of a finger fracture on his non-shooting hand. Criswell had seven points and five rebounds against Illinois. He hurt the finger during the game.

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