UCLA won another thrilling game against Arizona on Friday night, this time to advance to the Pac-12 Tournament Championship. However, with that victory came a loss that put a damper on the Bruins’ night and their month of March.
As UCLA’s freshman guard Jordan Adams landed from a vital block attempt that kept Arizona’s Solomon Hill from potentially winning the game with a three, he landed awkwardly on his right foot and winced in pain as his teammates briefly celebrated pulling out the thrilling win.
The diagnosis: a fractured fifth metatarsal. Out for the season.
Never mind that UCLA had just beaten Arizona three times in one season for the first time since 2006 and was headed to its first Pac-12 Tournament Championship since 2008.
The player who had just resuscitated the Bruins, putting up a game-high 24 points and doing everything in his will to ensure a victory for his team, had just been sidelined for the rest of the postseason.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for UCLA, who has seemed to have found a previously absent camaraderie as the team has grinded out tough victories in unison in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Bruins not only lost their second-leading scorer (15.3 PPG), but also their best all-around player. Adams’ intensity on both ends of the floor is unrivaled and his never-say-die attitude is inspirational and contagious to his teammates.
So, what now? Can the Bruins survive the rest of March without Adams?
Let’s first consider who will be replacing Adams in the starting lineup: sophomore guard Norman Powell.
Judging from how Powell has played this season as UCLA’s backup guard (averaging 21 minutes, 5.8 points, shooting 45 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range), he should be an ample substitute for Adams.
As he was lined up to be a starter until the Bruins’ stellar trio of freshmen guards swarmed the starting lineup, Powell will be more than ready to put in a solid 30-plus minutes for his team.
Like Adams, Powell makes big-time plays. He possesses enough elastic potential energy in his knees to launch himself up into the rafters and often pumps up his team with high-flying dunks, which give the Bruins a significant boost.
Although his offensive contributions are worth noting because he’s replacing UCLA’s second-leading scorer, the emphasis in asserting Powell’s viability as Adams’ replacement lies in his defense—and he certainly meets that qualification.
Above all, offense is not a problem for UCLA.
Although Adams has been a tremendous provider to the Bruins’ offense, the team has proven that it can win when its star players are having an off shooting night.
UCLA his won games in which Adams has scored four points and lost games in which the hot-handed freshman has put up 23. The same statistic can be isolated for Shabazz Muhammad, as the Bruins have won when he has posted a mere six points and lost when he scored 22.
Adams’ scoring will be missed but it can be compensated for.
Muhammad will step up; Kyle Anderson will make big plays; Larry Drew can step up like he did in UCLA’s quarterfinal matchup against Arizona State, in which he posted a career-high 20 points.
So, UCLA should be good for the remainder of the postseason, then? Well, not so fast.
Losing a core member of the squad like Adams to injury has the potential to demoralize the Bruins as they brave their way through the rest of March.
Although they had just advanced to the championship, the Bruins were quick to snuff their celebration on Friday as they noticed Adams hobbling about the court. Larry Drew II was so distraught by his teammate’s injury that he was reduced to tears while addressing the press in the locker room.
While those tears cascading from Drew’s troubled face could be categorized as dejection or an admission of defeat for UCLA’s postseason dreams, they are quite the opposite. They prove passion for his fellow teammate and his team.
“It’s tough. But there’s something about this team,” Drew said to reporters as he wiped the tears with his jersey, “We find ways to make things happen when it seems like all is lost.”
For what it’s worth, Drew’s assessment is pristine. UCLA hasn’t taken the conventional road to success this season, often playing with fire, but it has nevertheless achieved one of its principal goals: winning the conference.
So, now faced with another obstacle, there is nothing that suggests the Bruins won’t claw their way through it.
“It’s going to be tough to go without [Adams], but it’s all part of handling adversity, and that’s something we’ve shown we’re pretty good at,” freshman Kyle Anderson said.
Adversity is abound. The spotlight is on the Bruins tonight in Vegas.
Robert will be live-blogging tonight’s Pac-12 Tournament Championship game between UCLA and Oregon beginning at 8 p.m.