LAS VEGAS — Count on this city to make you feel like you’re riding high before dealing a devastating blow.
In the Pac-12’s first trip out to Sin City for the conference tournament, the UCLA men’s basketball team left empty-handed and hurt.
Instead of a hot roulette table, it was two straight comeback wins from double-digit deficits that had the team believing it could win no matter what the score.
Instead of a dealer hitting 21, the Bruins first had to watch Jordan Adams break his foot, and then see Oregon cutting down the nets at MGM Grand Garden Arena as Pac-12 champions.
UCLA was already headed to the NCAA tournament, but what happened in Vegas will not stay here, only leaving the Bruins worse off as they try to advance.
The loss of the irreplaceable Adams might have cost them the shot at getting a conference tournament title to pair with their regular-season title, which leaves them out of the conversation about the preferred locations the NCAA selection committee will give to top teams. Coach Ben Howland talked about how much he wanted to play close to home in the West Regional Championship – that dream is likely dead.
The committee will have to evaluate UCLA based on one game – Saturday’s 78-69 loss to Oregon in the final – to determine what the team is without their second-leading scorer for their seed in the tournament.
How’d the Bruins look? A little unprepared for life without Adams. They had only a walk-through late Friday night in a hotel conference room to implement Howland’s adjustments to the game plan. It wasn’t enough.
“We didn’t have a day of practice to adjust to what we wanted to do,” sophomore guard Norman Powell said. “We’re going to go back to LA, take these days off, and then come back and practice and make sure we know our roles with Jordan out.”
Besides missing Adams, who was wheelchair-bound and glued to the end of the team bench, UCLA lapsed back into the team that slipped up in a number of bad losses this season, not the one that willed itself, despite all kinds of adversity, to big wins. The Bruins couldn’t box out the Ducks to get crucial rebounds and gave up lots of open three-point looks that Oregon converted.
It’s the smallest of sample sizes, but that’s what the selection committee gets to chew on before deciding UCLA’s fate.
The Bruins will watch the announcement of their seed and venue on Selection Sunday and then get back to learning how to play without Adams against their upcoming opponent. But before that, they have to find time to get over their loss.
On the stages of grief, the UCLA locker sat somewhere between anger and depression on Saturday. It’s understandable – the Bruins were asked to play their third game in three nights immediately after finding out Adams’ season was over.
“We’re not over it,” Powell said. “It really sucks for him and we can feel his pain.”
They can’t afford to wonder “what could have been” in the upcoming minutes of win or go home basketball. Losing Adams is unfair, but they have to be mentally prepared to go on without him.
Shabazz Muhammad didn’t appear ready. The freshman forward tried but he couldn’t take over the game like Adams did a day earlier, as a manageable deficit slipped away Saturday.
“The scoring load that me and him carry is a lot of weight,” Muhammad said after the loss. “It’s tough.”
Acceptance is the first step, but it will be tough. You might fling your suit jacket at the nearest bystander if you were dealt the luck UCLA just had during a long weekend in Vegas.