In a tale of two feet, a reeling Gophers team prone to shooting itself in the foot catches a staggering UCLA team whose best defender and second-leading scorer just broke his.
Jordan Adams, the Bruins’ 6-5 freshman shooting guard, won’t play Friday when sixth-seeded UCLA (25-9, 13-5 Pac-12) faces the 11th-seeded Gophers in their South Region opener at Frank Erwin Events Center at the University of Texas in Austin.
How important is Adams, you ask? Well, he was scoring 15.3 points per game while leading the No. 21 Bruins in steals (2.2) and free-throw percentage (84.0) when he broke his right foot defending the final shot in Friday’s 66-64 Pac-12 semifinal victory over Arizona. And that win was possible only because Adams scored a game-high 24 points, including 13 in the final six minutes to erase an 11-point deficit.
Also consider what happened the next night, when exasperated Bruins coach Ben Howland whipped his suit jacket into the front row during a defensively absent 78-69 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
“I am very embarrassed by that, it’s a terrible example for our team,” Howland told reporters when asked about his jacket toss after the game. “We have to play through adversity.”
They also have to play with basically no bench. Without Adams, the Bruins became a tired team that had to lean on only six players for all but four minutes against the Ducks. Insiders think little enough of UCLA that Minnesota opened up as a two- to three-point favorite in Las Vegas, even though the Gophers are the lower seed.
OK, now that we’ve built up the hopes for all Gophers fans, let’s take a look at what the Bruins do have.
What they do have is:
• Shabazz Muhammad, the best high school player in the country a year ago and now one of the top college players in the nation. The 6-6, 225-pounder averages 17.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
• Travis Wear, a 6-10 junior who averages 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
• Kyle Anderson, a freshman guard who averages 9.8 points, 3.5 assists and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game. The Bruins play three guards and two forwards, but Anderson, a guard, also happens to be 6-9.
• Larry Drew II, a 6-2 senior point guard and former North Carolina Tar Heel. He averages a game-high 7.4 assists in an up-tempo style.
And although the reserves aren’t much to speak of now that Adams is out, they do have 6-10 junior David Wear and 6-9 freshman Tony Parker coming off the bench.
“They’ve got some talent,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. “I haven’t seen them play much. We played against Larry Drew down in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago when we played North Carolina. All three of those guys [Drew, Travis Wear and David Wear] transferred from North Carolina back to the West Coast.”
The Bruins’ up-tempo pace of play also will challenge the Gophers.
“We just have to play our game,” Smith said. “We have to figure out what we do best. I would hope that we fit that style, that we can play that style. It’s kind of a grind it out in the Big Ten. Yeah, I think it’s a good matchup for us.”