Star Tribune beat writer Amelia Rayno breaks down the matchups in Friday’s game
UCLA took a big hit in this category when second-leading scorer Jordan Adams broke his foot on the final play of the Bruins’ 66-64 victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. Adams, perhaps the Bruins’ best all-around player, was a major factor in getting UCLA on the right track. Never was his worth more apparent than after the Arizona game, when point guard Larry Drew II cried openly in the locker room over the loss. Even without Adams, the Bruins have talent. Drew has improved substantially at the point and Shabazz Muhammad drives to the basket and finishes at the rim extremely well. Both should be trouble for Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman, but while Norman Powell — Adams’ replacement — is no pushover, he won’t give the backcourt the same threat, and everyone likely will play extended minutes with essentially no guard depth. What’s more, without Adams to shoot threes, the two-point oriented Bruins will go outside — where the Gophers struggle to guard — even less often. At a time when the Hollinses are just getting hot from the outside, it’s not good news for UCLA.
Because of their dwindling personnel, the Bruins’ frontcourt could be in flux as well. Coach Ben Howland moved Kyle Anderson to power forward earlier this season and the results have been positive, but Anderson now could be used on the wing as a small forward more often. That leaves the Wear twins for UCLA — Travis and David — to stop Trevor Mbakwe inside. For a team that has been weak on the boards, that might not be a good thing for the Bruins. While the Gophers’ defensive rebounding still could improve, Minnesota is still No. 1 in the country on the offensive boards, while UCLA is ranked 237th. The Gophers’ total rebounding rate (55.7) is ranked No. 8, while UCLA (48.9) is 228th. The biggest issues for Minnesota are Rodney Williams’ inconsistency and Mbakwe’s tendency to get into early foul trouble. But with backups Elliott Eliason and Andre Ingram improving as of late, the Gophers should still be OK.
Yikes. The Bruins’ already short bench just got shorter. Howland only really played seven guys before Adams’ injury. Now he’s down to only one experienced sub — David Wear or one of the guards, depending on how Howland wants to do it — and he said he will give little-used freshman Tony Parker a bigger role. While the Gophers’ bench has been hot and cold, it’s impossible to look at that experience and range of options as a weakness against a team that has so few ways to go. Will UCLA be willing to try to press Minnesota if it doesn’t have anyone waiting in the wings? Can the Bruins maintain their run-and-gun tendencies — or keep up with the Gophers if they push the tempo — without much relief? Ingram, Eliason and point guard options Maverick Ahanmisi and Julian Welch can contribute all Minnesota needs. This one is easy.
It’s kind of strange, considering both coaches are potentially in the same situation: heading to the tournament even as the seat underneath them significantly warms up. The state of Howland’s job security — or the lack of it — has gotten more publicity than Tubby Smith’s, and maybe that’s because his seat is hotter. But at this point, it might be so impending and so public, that Howland is actually looser. Hey, the more nerve-racking scenario is often the unknown. What’s more, Howland has had six days to figure out how to regroup his ailing team and find a new combination, while Smith — who already has stated the Gophers will remain status quo — isn’t quite sure which formula he’s preparing to face. Minnesota already has seemed underprepared at points this season, even when Smith did know what the opponent was going to bring.
PREDICTION: Gophers 65, UCLA 61