LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA Bruins' offense has been clicking for some time now and the defense took a step in the right direction Thursday against the California Golden Bears. Now, what about that rebounding issue?
UCLA has been outrebounded 95-73 over the past two games and gave up a whopping 20 offensive rebounds to both Missouri and Cal. To put that in perspective, Missouri leads the nation in offensive rebounding with 16.9 per game.
It's cause for concern in Westwood as the Bruins (11-3, 1-0 Pac-12) prepare to face the Stanford Cardinal (9-5, 0-1) and forward Josh Huestis, one of the Pac-12's top rebounders, Saturday at noon in Pauley Pavilion.
"We just got beat on the boards the last two games, allowing 20 offensive boards in each of those games," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It's a huge concern and something we've got to do a better job with."
One player who can't be blamed, however, is Kyle Anderson. The 6-foot-9 freshman leads UCLA with 8.7 rebounds per game and is averaging 10.2 over the past five games. Anderson had 19 points and 12 rebounds Thursday against California. Two games earlier, he had 20 points and 17 rebounds against Fresno State.
"He has great hands," Howland said. "If he gets his hands on it, he's got strong hands and soft hands, really good hands. He's long, he has a nose for the ball. He has good understanding of being able to anticipate where the ball is going to come off."
Anderson came up big in the waning moments against California, too. The Golden Bears used offensive rebounding to cut a 14-point lead to five with 8:24 to play, but Anderson took charge of the glass and kept Cal from getting those extra opportunities by grabbing eight of his 12 rebounds in the final 7:36.
"We were at the point where we were getting outrebounded and most of their points were coming off second-chance opportunities," Anderson said. "When coach put me in around the 9-minute mark, my focus was to go in there and make sure no second-chance shots came their way. I just wanted to get some rebounds."
Aside from Anderson, however, the team hasn't been getting it done on the boards of late. Nobody other than Anderson is averaging more than 5.3 rebounds over the past four games. Shabazz Muhammad had 10 rebounds on Nov. 25 against Cal Poly, and Travis Wear had 10 in the Nov. 9 season opener against Indiana. Those were the only other double-digit rebounding games by a Bruin other than Anderson this season.
David Wear, a 6-foot-10 forward who was the team's leading rebounder last season with 6.3 per game, is down to 4.8 this season. Muhammad, a 6-foot-6 forward, is averaging 4.7 per game but only 1.8 defensive rebounds per game, as he tends to leak out looking to get out on offense instead of crashing the boards when a shot goes up.
"On the offensive end, there's not an issue," Howland said of Muhammad’s rebounding. "On the offensive end, he's really good at that end rebounding the basketball. He's just not going with the same emphasis [on defense as] he goes on offense."
Tony Parker hurting
Center Tony Parker had an acupuncture treatment Friday to help ease back spasms that have limited his play over the past week.
Parker played only two minutes Thursday against Cal after missing practice on Wednesday. He also missed practice Monday because of migraine headaches. Howland said Parker's availability for Saturday against Stanford is still up in the air.
"Tony's back is still a problem," Howland said. "It's something that's with his core and with his flexibility, and that's something he's got to continue to improve."
Parker, a 6-foot-9 freshman, has had a string of injury woes since his arrival at UCLA. He tore his hamstring over the summer and was out for the Bruins' exhibition trip to China. He began suffering back spasms during UCLA's trip to New York and was limited in the next few games. Then he sprained his ankle during pregame warm-ups prior to the Cal State Northridge game on Nov. 28.
He's averaging only 7.6 minutes per game and has expressed disappointment at not playing more -- especially after playing only 18 total minutes the past four games.
"He has had a run of bad luck when it comes to injuries," Howland said.
The Pac-12 schedule of playing Thursdays and Saturdays means the Bruins have only one day between games before facing Stanford on Saturday night. That means cramming a lot of preparation in, especially for a freshman-heavy team that isn't used to it. The Bruins had five days between their past two games and six days between games before that.
Having those days off in between games has been a boon for the Bruins, who have progressed exponentially since the beginning of the season, when they played four games between Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. Now that conference play has begun, however, it means two games in three days.
"It's hard," said Howland, long a proponent of spreading out the conference games a little more. "It's harder when our freshmen are doing this for the first time, because we're trying to assimilate a lot of information in a short period of time."