The UCLA basketball team has one final tune-up before Pac-12 play begins next week, but the game against Richmond on Friday night at the Sports Arena also serves as an all-important barometer game for exactly where the Bruins stand.
It has been a difficult team to figure out so far after a 1-4 start against pretty good teams and then a four-game win streak against teams that aren't exactly top-10 material.
Richmond (7-5) certainly doesn't fit into that latter class either, but at least the Spiders have a winning record, which is more than UC Irvine (2-9), UC Davis (1-10), Eastern Washington (6-6) or Penn (5-6) can say. And Richmond is coming off a season in which it advanced to the Sweet 16, so a victory Friday night would carry a bit more clout than any of UCLA's victories so far this season.
"This will be a very good test because they are an outstanding program and they have a very good team," coach Ben Howland said.
The Spiders lost three starters from last season's 29-8 team that lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16, but have five players back who played significant minutes for that team. They are well-coached and run the Princeton offense, shooting 39 percent from three-point range.
They also have four players averaging in double figures scoring, including freshman guard Kendall Anthony, the leader at 14.2 points, and junior guard Darien Brothers, who had 38 points and made seven of 11 3-pointers Tuesday in Richmond's victory over Old Dominion.
"We’ll have our hands full trying to guard the Princeton offense," Howland said. "They probably run the Princeton offense as well as anybody in the country and is down to very detailed. They’ve got very good personnel, they have a lot of guys that can score. They have good balance in their different players in terms of scoring so it’s going to be tough."
The Bruins appear to have turned a corner after their rough start, having won their last three games by an average of 28.3 points, but a hint of skepticism remains about dominating hapless teams. So far, UCLA's only victory over a team with a wining record was a 62-39 thumping of Pepperdne (6-4) on Nov. 28.
The Bruins have also lost to Texas, Michigan, Kansas, Middle Tennessee and Loyola Marymount -- teams that are a combined 42-16. Of those teams, only Loyola Marymount (6-6) has lost more than three games.
"Every test for us is a true test and hopefully we can show that we’ve improved over the last two weeks," Howland said. "I watched them on tape the other day just dismantle Wake Forest in the game where they won at Wake Forest. This is a very dangerous team and a very difficult team to play."
STOVER PRACTICES: Backup center Anthony Stover returned to practice Wednesday and should be available for the game Friday after getting poked in the eye and sitting out most Tuesday's game against UC Irvine. "His eye is fine," Howland said.
PARKER STILL NOT READY: Forward De'End Parker has not played since Nov. 15 against Middle Tennessee State because of patellar tendinitis in his knee and there is no sign his return is imminent. Howland said Parker was still rehabbing the knee, but that it was till causing a great deal of pain.
"He’s still insistent that it hurts so much that it’s hard for him so I don’t know what to tell him, Howland said.