And with it, a likely shot at a protected seed out west
Following the immediate high of beating Arizona for the third time this year, the last 24 hours have been more consumed with doubt and hand wringing over the season ending injury to star freshman Jordan Adams. While such unfortunate incidents often serve as a rallying cry for a team looking for some temporary inspiration, there would be no such ending for the Bruins.
But for a while it looked like it might work. UCLA raced out to an uncharacteristic quick lead against Oregon. The only problem was that the lead was built more on Oregon playing poorly and turning the ball over than anything the Bruins were doing. Once the turnovers stopped, and Dana Altman and his team realized that we were too slow to recover on anything on the perimeter, the Ducks began letting loose from beyond the arc, hitting their first five three pointers of the game to surge back into the lead. And thus we see the first hint of the impact a lack of Adams will have on this team the rest of the way. Norman Powell did an admirable job filling in on defense on the perimeter, but it would have been nice to have the option to go smaller and quicker with both he and Adams given the clinic Damyean Dotson, Johnathan Loyd, and Carlos Emory were putting on from distance.
As our defense fell apart, so did our offense. In the absence of Adams, Travis Wear apparently felt compelled to try to pick up the slack in the shot attempt department, and promptly rewarded us with blown dunks. Larry Drew II tried to keep us in it with some miraculous pullup shots, despite the fact that he must have been exhausted playing all but one minute, but with Shabazz Muhammad's shot being off and him making more of a living on the offensive glass, the team needed an offensive sparkplug. A penetrator and slasher. And he was sitting on the bench in a boot.
Unfortunately there will be no conference title for UCLA, and this was once again an example of Altman outcoaching Howland. Howland knew he was down to seven players, but this did not stop him from playing Tony Parker more than his token minutes again. This was after Parker made a man-sized aggressive move for a layup that signaled to all of the Bruin faithful that he was ready to go. On the other bench, Altman trusted his players, going legitimately 9 deep including Johnathan Loyd, who at a 4.5 PPG average became just the latest Howland Opponent Superstar, exploding for 19 points. There was a time once when Howland was known for shutting down an individual on the other team. Now he makes superstars out of scrubs.
This loss, combined with the absence of Adams, makes it far more likely that UCLA has punched its ticket out of the West, if not for the first weekend, then almost certainly the second. Staples Center will have to find a rooting interest that's not the local team that plays 10 miles away. And now the Final Four, the only thing that should save Howland's job, seems more distant than ever.