No. 7 Missouri represents big test for Bruins

LOS ANGELES – The Missouri Tigers have what the UCLA Bruins want: a top-10 ranking and national respect.

The Bruins aren’t likely to get in the top 10 anytime soon, but they can take care of the second part of that wish list when they meet No. 7 Missouri on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins (9-3) are on a season-best four-game win streak; however, they have not defeated any ranked opponents during that stretch. They have lost to the Georgetown Hoyas and San Diego State Aztecs -- the only teams currently ranked that they have played this season --and need a good outing against Missouri in order to show that their early-season struggles are under control.

“It’s a real big test for us,” said guard Kyle Anderson. “Missouri is a great team; they’re a top-10 team. We’ve gotten better from the last time we played a top-20 team, but I just want to see how much we’ve gotten better. I want to see where we stand with other good teams and other great teams.”

The last top-20 team UCLA faced was San Diego State on Dec. 1 and the Aztecs won 78-69. Since then, the Bruins have won four in a row. They still have doubters because they squeaked out an ugly victory over the Texas Longhorns, then rolled through mid-majors Prairie View A&M, Long Beach State and Fresno State.

This is UCLA’s final nonconference game before Pac-12 play starts next week and represents the last chance for the Bruins to get a much-needed quality victory that is missing from their résumé.

Of UCLA’s nine victories this season, only three have come against teams that currently have winning records: Indiana State (7-4), Cal State Northridge (9-3) and Texas (7-5).

“It would definitely be a huge upgrade to our current season,” point guard Larry Drew said of the importance of beating Missouri. “But at this point I think a win over anybody and everybody would be just as big. They just happen to be up next.”

Parker wants more minutes

UCLA coach Ben Howland said he’s had discussions with freshman center Tony Parker about playing time.

On his Twitter account this week, Parker wrote a couple of messages expressing unhappiness and it turns out he was, indeed, talking about his situation with the UCLA basketball team. Parker is averaging 8.6 minutes -- almost 14 fewer than any other scholarship player and almost 20 fewer than the rest of UCLA’s heralded freshman class.

“He’d like to play more minutes,” Howland said.

Parker said on Twitter that he should have listened when people told him “this wasn’t for me.” Howland said it was just a player expressing frustration and that Parker seemed to be happy this week in practice.

“That’s a sign of the times that when you put something out on Twitter in the heat of the moment,” Howland said. “He’s had two great practices.

“He’s had a great attitude the last two days. He’s practiced hard and he’s been effective.”

Howland said Parker is simply behind Travis Wear, David Wear and Kyle Anderson -- the players who are getting the minutes at center and power forward -- but he expects to use Parker more often as the season progresses.

“Keep working hard and keep competing,” Howland said when asked what he tells Parker when Parker asks for more playing time. “We have this last nonconference game and 18 conference games. He’s going to be thrown into very difficult situations going forward.”

The Force is with him

Anderson, from New Jersey, said it was difficult being away from home from Christmas, but he was looking at the positive side of it because he’s “in a position where a lot of other kids would like to be.”

He did get a Christmas present from his brother: A set of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. He said he planned on watching all three movies before UCLA plays Missouri.

“We have been very big with getting the Force and becoming a Jedi,” Anderson said. “He told me if you want to take down Missouri, you have to learn how to get the Force. I’m going to watch them tonight and hopefully learn the Force and take down Missouri.”