When I think about it, I really can’t say that I was surprised at what transpired for the UCLA Bruins in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
Sports Illustrated, in its tournament preview, said that the 6th-seeded Bruins wouldn’t be able to handle the Minnesota Golden Gophers without Jordan Adams, who was unavailable due to his broken foot.
They were proved to be dead on correct, as the Big Ten’s 11th-seeded Gophers from Minneapolis used a zone defense at the outset to stifle UCLA’s outside shooting, the Bruins needing to have a great night in that area if they were to have any chance of winning, since Minnesota had a huge advantage in size up front and rebounding.
That zone defense worked perfectly as UCLA missed its first eight shots of the game, making a mere eight of its 30 basket attempts in the first half and shooting just 31.7 % for the contest.
Combine that with the Gophers’ Austin Hollins making five of his eight three-point shots on his way to a game-high 28 points, 23 of them coming in the second half, a Los Angeles Times article saying that Shabazz Muhammad (more on him a bit later) is actually a year older that was believed, which had to have been at least a little bit of a distraction – though everyone in blue and gold would deny that – and the Bruins playing sluggish and sloppy throughout the night…
That all adds up to UCLA’s basketball team ending its season on a very bad note; a whimper really, as Ben Howland’s squad was buried by Minnesota, 83-63, in the South Regional at the Erwin Center in Austin, TX before 13,825 fans that were largely rooting for the Gophers, the Bruin fans in the stands being – as usual – relatively small in number.
“It’s definitely not how I envisioned it all ending,” said Larry Drew II, who in his last game as a Bruin made only one basket in six attempts, scoring just four points.
“I thought we were prepared,” added Muhammad. “(Minnesota) jumped on us early.”
As bad as they played in the game’s first 20 minutes, UCLA was only down by ten at halftime and with 15 minutes left, Norman Powell hit a three-pointer gave the Bruins hope and a look at the game at 44-39.
But like the Road Runner using his after burners in a line of smoke, leaving Wile E. Coyote in the dust, Minnesota went into overdrive starting with Hollins’ back-to-back threes, eventually putting UCLA out of their misery as the Gopher lead grew to over 20 points, the game essentially being over with around ten minutes left in the second half.
Muhammad led the Bruins with 20 points, but missed all seven of his shot attempts in the first half and was six-for-18 in the game; it was a bad conclusion to his brief time in Westwood as he is expected to announce that he is entering the NBA Draft – where some project him as a top five pick – very soon.
Powell and David Wear were the other Bruins in double figures as they scored ten points each, but Powell, going three-for-12, Kyle Anderson, who made just two of his 11 shots for six points, and Travis Wear, who like Drew only made one basket to match the point guard’s output at four points, well…
Suffice it to say that they couldn’t hit the side of the proverbial barn.
At least UCLA outrebounded their opponents for a change, beating the Gophers on the boards 42-36.
The official records will say that the Bruins’ season ended on Friday night, but for all intents and purposes UCLA’s basketball season came to a halt on March 15th in Las Vegas, in the waning seconds of the Pac-12 Tournament semi-finals against Arizona when Adams’ foot cracked, putting him on crutches for the next several weeks.
That, to coin a cliche, took all the wind out of the Bruins’ sails as the rest of the team struggled to step up without that key freshman guard, growing tired due to the lack of a bench.
As for Howland, despite winning the Pac-12 regular season title he may well have coached his last game at UCLA as not only are speculations rampant that he will be let go, this loss will undoubtedly strengthen the calls from boosters and alumni to buy out the coach’s contract and to start fresh next fall.
If the Bruin coach is indeed fired, a report of that will appear on this site soon after.
And a complete review of UCLA’s season, in which they went 25-10 overall, will likewise appear on this site this coming week.