The UCLA men’s basketball team had a target on its back in recent years. It’s just something that comes along with being one of the nation’s best.

That’s no longer the case.

On Sunday against Kansas, the near-unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, the Bruins will instead be the ones holding the arrows.

“It’s a daunting challenge,” coach Ben Howland said. “We’re playing the best team in the country.”

UCLA suffered a three-point, double-overtime loss to visiting Cal State Fullerton on the nationally televised season opener. After winning their next two games, the Bruins were the only team to lose three games in last weekend’s 76 Classic tournament. UCLA lost to Portland by 27, to No. 12 Butler by two and to Long Beach State by 11.

“It’s very clear that there’s a lot of work to be done,” Howland said. “I think our players understand that.”

To use a borrowed phrase, UCLA is not in the same league as Kansas anymore.

The perennial Big-12 power, which went on to do what UCLA could not and beat Memphis in the 2008 national championship game, has not fallen off. The Jayhawks received 63 of the 65 first-place votes in the latest Associated Press poll.

Having experienced UCLA’s days as the target, redshirt senior guard Michael Roll has a feeling on how the Bruins will approach Sunday’s game at Pauley Pavilion.

“We’re going to come hard,” Roll said.

The Bruins will have to if they want to stand a chance.

Kansas (6-0), led by preseason All-Americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, ranks second nationally with an average of more than 90 points per game. Four of the five starters, including Collins, Aldrich and celebrated freshman Xavier Henry, are scoring in double-digits. The Jayhawks have nailed 48.5 percent of their 3-pointers, which also ranks second in the country. Kansas has wins of 36, 50, 30 and 37 points.

“We’ll learn a lot from this weekend,” said sophomore guard Jerime Anderson, who will be asked to contain Collins. “We’ll know what we really have to do to win.”

UCLA, meanwhile, has made only 26 percent of its shots from behind the arc. Senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who made a name for himself as a jump-shooter last season, has missed 19 of his 23 shots from 3-point range.

“The most important thing on offense is shot selection,” Howland said. “We’ve got to do a better job of being more patient and taking high-percentage shots.”

Though they won’t use it as an excuse, the Bruins have dealt with adversity so far in this young season.

First, a number of injuries did not allow Howland to field a full roster during preseason practices. Then came the suspension of Dragovic. On Tuesday, UCLA suffered another setback when Howland announced that sophomore forward Drew Gordon would no longer be a member of the team. Howland and Gordon, the Bruins’ starting center and third-leading scorer, came to a mutual agreement about the decision.

In a way, Sunday’s contest serves as a great opportunity to regain some lost swagger.

“We’re going to find out if we can step up as young men, as student-athletes,” redshirt junior Mustafa Abdul-Hamid said. “I’m confident that we will.”

Win or lose, the battered Bruins intend on emptying their quiver.

“We’re UCLA,” Anderson said. “And we have to fight back.”

Honeycutt to make return

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt, who has missed all season with a stress reaction in his right tibia, has returned to practice and will be available to play Sunday.

With reports from Eli Smukler, Bruin Sports senior staff.