That pretty much, actually, was the game in a nutshell. It felt similar to the come-from-behind wins against Arizona State and Arizona in the Tournament's quarter- and semi-finals. When the Bruins pulled to within two points of the Ducks in the second half at about the 12-minute mark, UCLA appeared to be, like in the first two Tournament games, wrestling the run of play away from their opponent. The Bruins were applying enough defensive pressure to get the Ducks out of sync on offense and put together a few well-executed offensive possessions, enough to draw to within 54-52 on a big three-pointer by Larry Drew. It felt like it was just a matter of time, again.
But the Bruins ran out of gas.
It was all going by the same come-from-behind script but then the Bruins noticeably got fatigued. Oregon's Johnathan Loyd, on the other hand, was an Energizer Bunny, hitting a big shot to start an 8-1 run. During that run, the steal by Arsalan Kazemi, by poking the ball away from David Wear, seemed to be a momentum shifter, with UCLA clearly looking tired and slower after that play. The Bruins never got closer than 6 points in the last 10 minutes, and thwarted themselves with being considerably slower defensively, sloppier on offense and unable to hit free throws.
UCLA ran out of gas because it just didn't have enough bodies. Playing essentially a seven-man rotation for two games in a row, and then reducing that to a six-man rotation because of Jordan Adams' injury for a third game in three days would take the gas out of anyone. Drew played 34, 37 and 39 minutes in three days.
While that was it in a nutshell, the bigger picture is obvious, and it has to be said. While Coach Ben Howland has done a good job with the team this season, you can easily attribute UCLA running out of gas to a failure in roster management. You can debate why so many players have left UCLA, and whose fault it was, but ultimately the responsibility falls at the feet of the head coach. If the coach is responsible for not managing players well enough and they leave it's his fault. If the coach did everything he possibly could to manage a player, but the player was so problematic that he was a lost cause, that, too, is the coach's fault for recruiting that player. No matter from what angle you look at it, the buck stops at the desk of the head coach. Playing in the Pac-12 Championship game with really only six players isn't acceptable and shouldn't happen, unless your roster is beset with multiple injuries.
UCLA was actually very fortunate this season that, with such a short roster, it didn't suffer more season-impacting injuries. Truly, instead of Adams' loss being looked upon as bad luck, overall UCLA's lack of injuries this season was extremely lucky.
Adams was a tremendous loss, and not merely as just another body. He can create a shot on offense better than anyone on the team; on defense, despite not being a great athlete, he has become the team's most consistent defender; and he just simply injects an energy and resolve that a successful team needs. After Drew, perhaps Adams would be the player this UCLA team could least afford to lose.
It's hard not to see how not having Adams for the NCAA Tournament doesn't bode well for the Bruins. In this game with Oregon, without Adams, UCLA's scoring was far easier to limit. The Ducks' Damyeon Dotson did a great job on Shabazz Muhammad, but the Ducks, too, were able to cheat over other players to help with Muhammad quite often. Muhammad, too, also got in foul trouble in the first half and, unlike against Arizona when Howland could afford to play him while in foul trouble, without Adams Howland can't afford it. Drew clearly tried to step up and take on some of the scoring load in Adams' absence, getting 14 points and two clutch three-pointers. Norman Powell, too, playing extended minutes (37) also didn't disappoint, scoring ten points and also hitting a couple of big three-pointers. But the offense, without Adams, just doesn't have that quick-scoring punch that it's had all season, that was especially on display against Arizona Friday night. Adams, being such a prolific scorer, goes through sequences in many games where he is a one-man scoring machine, and is the difference in the game. That's near-impossible to replace by any offensive combination of Drew and Powell. Any NCAA Tournament opponent will clearly have an easier go of making up a defensive game plan against the Bruins without Adams.
The conference tournament format – playing games on successive days – is the worst possible scenario for UCLA, given its very short bench. The NCAA Tournament, however, won't be as draining, and will perhaps help to limit fatigue as a factor for the short-handed Bruins.