It required the best game of Jordan Adams' life, an idiotic technical foul by Sean Miller, and an improbable comeback from 11 down with ten minutes to go, but in the end, UCLA pulled off the stirring 66-64 victory over Arizona Friday, advancing to the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
That was, doubtless, one of the best games played in the Pac-12 in the last four years. The atmosphere in the MGM Garden Arena was almost Final Four-esque, with a loud (probably inebriated) crowd rocking for the entire game. The game itself had all the makings of a classic, with Arizona jumping out to an 11 point lead in the second half and then Adams completely taking over the game, scoring 13 straight points to keep UCLA alive and, ultimately, give the Bruins the lead.
For so much of the game, and well into the second half, it looked like UCLA really didn't have an answer for what Arizona was doing. On defense, the Bruins doubled the post early, which led to wide open threes for the Wildcats, and then struggled to stop dribble penetration, leading to easy layup attempts. On offense, the Bruins were stymied by Nick Johnson's defense of Larry Drew and, especially, Solomon Hill's suffocating defense of Shabazz Muhammad. With Muhammad's lack of high level quickness, he can struggle at times against long, athletic defenders, and that was readily apparent through most of the game Friday.
What's more, UCLA played much more to Arizona's tempo than in the previous two games, matching Sean Miller's trademark slow down brand of offense that has never, and will never, be up tempo. The Bruins overall intensity, while good, wasn't at the level of Arizona's for the first 30 minutes.
Then, in the final ten minutes, UCLA went to another level, and so much of the credit has to go to Adams, who scored 13 straight and also stepped up defensively. It's a devastating blow to UCLA's chances in the NCAA Tournament (or even tomorrow in the Pac-12 Tourney final) that Adams broke his foot on the final play of the game. Without Adams, UCLA's offense loses an important second option, and its defense loses its stopper. Norman Powell, who has struggled over the last few months, will most likely start in place of Adams, and you have to wonder if the added minutes will help his lack of confidence.
Regardless, Adams played a great game, the best of his college career, and UCLA needed every bit of it to climb the mountain once again to knock off the Wildcats. Muhammad struggled the entire game getting his shot off against Hill, but played with that same level of intensity that he displayed in the latter stages of yesterday's game against Arizona State. He grabbed six rebounds, and was once again very active on the offensive glass. Again, this level of intensity was what we expected to see from Muhammad, and it's nice that it's finally showing up through the final games of the season.
Larry Drew played at nowhere near the level that he did last night, and looked pretty fatigued throughout the game. Even playing relatively poorly, he still turned the ball over just twice, which helped to keep UCLA's turnovers down to an absurd total of five. What changed the game fundamentally in the second half was the Bruins' ability to convert points off of turnovers. The combination of Adams' quick hands and Kyle Anderson's long arms makes for a UCLA defense that is very good at generating turnovers.
Again, though, much like against ASU, Arizona played a large role in UCLA mounting the comeback. The Wildcats, down the stretch, displayed such poor shot selection and judgment that it's amazing that Miller blamed the loss on the refs. Miller's team, for being a slowdown style of team, is extremely undisciplined and it cost them late. That ultimately falls on the coach.
It's actually a wonder that Arizona didn't win this game, given how poorly UCLA's defense played. The Wildcats got layup after layup through the first half, and if they actually had an up tempo offense, might well have blown UCLA off the court. However, because Miller is so focused on minimizing possessions, using shot clock, and running his slow down offense, the Wildcats actually didn't run away with the game. UCLA's rotations were very poor, and the on ball defense was equally bad for most of the game. Both Travis Wear and David Wear struggled to rotate down low, and Drew really had a tough time with his on ball defense.
So now, after another stunning comeback, the Bruins will head to the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament to face the winner of Utah and Oregon. Without Adams, and coming off two games in two days, the Bruins will almost certainly be very fatigued for the game, playing with just a six man rotation. The loss of Adams diminishes UCLA's chances of winning tomorrow, but more importantly, could deal a death blow to the Bruins' NCAA Tournament chances. The injury could also possibly affect UCLA's seed, given how integral Adams has been to the team, and how shallow the depth is.
It took all season, but the loss of Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith to transfer has finally become an insurmountable issue. With Powell struggling with his confidence and shot selection, and Tony Parker probably not ready for prime time, the Bruins have a very tough slate ahead of them.
UCLA Completes the Sweep
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