Nearly three weeks ago, UCLA lost its third conference game to a team with a losing record, Oregon State, the Bruins’ second loss on the second game of a road trip.
In that game, UCLA’s top scorer, Jordan Adams, was 0-for-9 from the field with six points.
The substandard performance marked only the second time the sophomore guard had been blanked from the field in his UCLA career and the second time his point total didn’t swell to at least double digits in his sophomore campaign.
It was no secret that Adams hadn’t been shooting the ball as well as usual after the Bruins’ conference opener (37.3% over seven games), but his game at Oregon State was beyond out of character for UCLA’s most prolific scorer.
Adams had shot 49.7 percent in UCLA’s 13 non-conference games as a follow-up to his 47 percent freshman season.
He and the Bruins knew they’d let a prime opportunity to narrow the gap in the conference race with Arizona slip right through of their hands. UCLA would be tied for first place in the Pac-12 if they had won that game.
The general sentiment amongst the Bruins squad after that loss was that they couldn’t afford to let any more opportunities get away from them, but it seemed like the team was destined for more letdowns to come.
Then, something happened.
A void was filled, and UCLA’s outlook, not only for the conference season but for March as well, illuminated.
Jordan Adams began to shoot like Jordan Adams once again.
Fittingly, he found his groove against USC, scoring 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 3-for-4 from three, where Adams had struggled since UCLA’s conference opener as well (29%). The Bruins won that game by double digits.
Then, he kept the ball rolling in his next game. Facing Colorado at home, Adams again finished with 17 points, this time on a slightly improved 6-of-13 shooting. UCLA won that game, too, by double digits.
In his next game, he not only kept the ball rolling, but added some pace to it as well. Shooting an astonishing 10-of-14 from the field, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, Adams tied a personal Pac-12 high with 24 points against Utah. The Bruins also won that game by double digits.
Adams then proved that records are made for breaking when he notched 28 points on the road against Cal on 12-of-19 shooting. Again, a double-digit win for UCLA.
During the Bruins’ four-game winning streak, a variety of players have played key roles in those wins.
Norman Powell lifted the team in the second half against USC and scored 21 points; Kyle Anderson produced another pair of spectacular double-double performances against Colorado (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Utah (16 points, 10 rebounds); and the bench combined for 27 points against Cal.
However, it’s very apparent that no player has more influence on UCLA’s offense than Adams.
Anderson put it best when he pointed out, "When Jordan's making shots, it's so easy to find him 'cause he cuts so well, but it also makes the defense cheat over to him and that frees up a lot of other guys, too.”
When Adams is on, UCLA is unstoppable.
Since his shooting rejuvenation, the outlook for the Bruins has soared from likely mediocrity to a potential Pac-12 title and postseason success.
In the course of two-and-a-half weeks, UCLA has become an elite basketball team—and the majority of the credit for that resides with Adams.
With Shabazz Muhammad gone, Adams is now the main target for opposing teams' defensive schemes, which likely played a role in his recent shooting lull because he wasn’t getting as many open looks as he was accustomed to.
However, Adams and the coaching staff’s effort to continue to create better looks for him despite the additional defensive pressure is paying off. Either that, or Adams has simply adapted to tighter guarding.
Whatever it may be, Adams has shot 57.9 percent in UCLA’s last four games. His ability to free up opportunities for his teammates enabled the Bruins to shoot 51.7 percent during that stretch after shooting 43.6 percent following their conference opener.
The spreading of opposing defenses has also allowed the Bruins to be extremely efficient with the ball on the offensive end.
Who's the most important player on UCLA's roster?
In the last four games, UCLA has racked up a 2.29 assist-turnover ratio (highest in Pac-12 is 1.62, held by UCLA), as opposed to the 1.27 assist-turnover ratio it compiled in the games between its conference opener and its recent winning spree.
Adams’ offense-sparking shooting resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bruins, as well.
They are not only in the middle of a hunt for their second straight Pac-12 regular-season title, but are also trying to garner momentum heading into the first week of March.
Yet, just as UCLA’s white-hot non-conference run was doused with a pair of disappointing losses, so could its conference closeout and postseason if the offense doesn’t stay hot.
And the most paramount component to UCLA’s offense, as he’s proved repeatedly, is Jordan Adams.
The circumstances were a little bit different last postseason, but the same mantra will reveal itself for UCLA this postseason.
This team lives and dies by Jordan Adams.