The UCLA Bruins are 25-8, and playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game versus Oregon after a hard, scrappy victory over Arizona, 66-64.
The victory was bittersweet as second-leading scorer Jordan Adams broke his foot during the last play of the game. The matchup with Oregon offers the Bruins one more piece of redemption, and an opportunity to demonstrate if they can still be dangerous minus their second leading scorer.
The Bruins’ third win of the season versus Arizona promised to be intense and physical, and it was. Arizona set the tone with hard, physical play from the start. This was NCAA Tourney level competition. The Bruins answered the challenge. It didn’t always appear they would. The first half was a slugfest with UCLA leading only briefly when they went ahead 6-4 on a Travis Wear lay-up. Arizona led the majority of the first, leading by as many as eight points. The Bruins hung tough though, and clawed to within four at the break. The Bruins’ shot a nasty 34.4 percent in the first half, including going 0-for-6 from three-point range.
The second half saw Arizona pull out to double digit leads multiple times. The Wildcats led by 11 points with 10 minutes to go, and then the Adams/Shabazz Muhammad Show started.
Adams and Muhammad combined for 22 points in a roughly seven minute stretch that fueled the resurgent Bruins. When the dust cleared, the Bruins were up 60-58 with a little over three minutes to go. Four free throws by Wear and Muhammad, and a key offensive rebound and put back by Kyle Anderson, sealed the deal for UCLA.
This game was a real gut-check for the Bruins. Arizona was playing for blood the entire game. Bill Waltons’ commentary notwithstanding, both teams played tough, aggressive defense all night long. The Wildcats shot for a higher percentage, but they had 13 turnovers to UCLA’s 5. What kept Arizona in the game was rebounding and three-point shooting. The difference for UCLA was at the free-throw line, where they made 21 free throws to the Wildcats’ seven. The catalyst was Jordan Adams. He attacked the lane repeatedly and ended up making 11 free throws.
UCLA’s hard-fought win puts the Bruins in a revenge situation against Oregon. The Ducks pulled away steadily and won handily against an overmatched Utah team in the semifinals. UCLA can rightfully claim they are not the same team that Oregon beat at Pauley two months ago. Unfortunately, UCLA won’t even be the same team they were tonight. The loss of Adams is potentially devastating. The Bruins had minimal depth to begin with, but with Adams out they lose not only a major source of scoring, but perhaps their most savvy, gutsy ball player.
Norman Powell has to step up if the Bruins are to win against the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship or make a serious run in the NCAA Tourney. He is capable of it, but capable isn’t the same as likely. This will be a great test for him. If he does step up, and Tony Parker can contribute more, there is still an opportunity for the Bruins to do some damage. The game against Oregon offers the Bruins a chance to adjust and persevere.
A few notes… Coach Miller’s whining after the game about the technical he earned during the game was not becoming, and more than a little ironic given the extent to which the Wildcats benefitted from ridiculous calls this season. Karma?… We all know the NBA draft is all about player potential, and Shabazz is more than likely gone, but his getting smothered by Hill tonight was pretty unimpressive. One more year at UCLA would not hurt this young man at all… Coach Howland deserves credit for how this team has turned out. As of this writing, only 12 teams have won more games than UCLA in all of D1. Trash the Pac-12 all you want, but it is likely sending five teams to the tourney, and UCLA won the regular season title and may well win the conference tourney. If they do, look for the Bruins to be at least a 4-seed when the dust settles. That’s pretty damned good for a team starting three freshmen… LDII can’t go scoreless again… Even without Adams, look for UCLA to get its revenge against the Ducks tonight.