Except for one significant development – more on that in a bit – you can easily say deja vu.
For the second straight day, UCLA’s basketball team played an opponent from the state of Arizona.
For the second straight day, these Bruins started this Pac-12 Tournament Semi-final slow – again – this time being outplayed by Arizona’s Wildcats.
For the second straight day, Ben Howland’s team was down by double digits – 11 points to be exact – midway through the second half. Again.
Then for the second straight day, they proceeded top come off the deck to show heart, character, and guts. Again.
Only this time, Kyle Anderson’s put-back off a Jordan Adams miss with 22 seconds left finished the comeback on Friday, sending top-seeded UCLA to the conference tournament finals with a 66-64 win over fourth-seeded Arizona as the contigent of Bruin Nation members in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas were ecstatic – at least at first.
But as was said, more on that in a little bit.
“Another fantastic win,” Howland said in the post-game press conference. “they never quit, they never gave up…they show such mental toughness.”
The victory was the Bruins’ third over the Wildcats this year, accomplishing the very difficult feat of beating the same opponent three times in a season.
The fact that Arizona was ranked as high as third in the country and had a higher standing in the polls than UCLA all season made the win all the more sweeter.
Until the Bruins got some terrible news…
Jordan Adams, perhaps the best freshman guard on the team not named Shabazz Muhammad, was clearly the MVP of this contest as he led everybody with 24 points, 18 of them coming in the second half as he led the comeback.
But here is where the “significant development” and “terrible price” comes into play:
In the game’s final seconds, the Bruins’ second-leading scorer and leading free throw shooter (he was 11 of 13 from the charity stripe against Arizona) landed awkwardly, subsequent X-rays showing that he suffered a broken right foot, which effectively renders him as done for the rest of the year.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: Adams’ injury, which leaves UCLA with only seven scholarship players, may be a bit too much to overcome as far as their chances in the Pac-12 Final against Oregon – who handled Utah rather easily 64-45 in the other semifinal – and how far the team can go in the NCAA Tournament.
Sure, the Bruins could do some major stepping up and beat the Ducks to become tournament champions, and they still have a good shot to win their first game in the Big Dance, but…
Without a key player like Adams and only seven guys on scholarship available, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t look too good; I am just being honest.
The rest of the Bruins: Muhammad, who was only four-for-11 in the semis, Anderson, who had ten points in the win, Travis Wear, who scored 11, Larry Drew II, who was shut out as he missed all five of his shot attempts, and the other four available players must perform over their heads and out of their minds if they want the winning to continue.
And a note to Howland: Regardless of whether he’s ready or not, Tony Parker needs to play some big minutes.
Because you need his size and presence to combat Oregon’s, and it will not do to only have a six-man rotation as your team will be gassed if you leave Parker on the bench like you have done all year.
I don’t know how UCLA will do in this championship game, but I do remain hopeful that without Adams, the team will rise to the occasion.
And as a longtime member of Bruin Nation, I do have faith.
If these Bruins have as much faith as I do, perhaps they can pull off the win.
#3-seeded Oregon Ducks, Pac-12 Tournament Championship Game
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV – Saturday, March 16th, 8:00 p.m.