Arizona's Pac-12 tournament run ends in semifinals as top-seeded UCLA rallies for 66-64 win.
By JACK MAGRUDERFS Arizona
LAS VEGAS — It became more difficult by the month, but
UCLA finished off its three-peat against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals Friday.
Three victories in the season series, three leading men.
Freshman swingman Jordan Adams suffered a fractured right fifth metatarsal on the final play of the game, but he made the difference in the Bruins’ 66-64 victory over the Wildcats at the MGM Grand Arena. Adams scored 17 of his game-high 24 points in the final nine minutes to send No. 21 UCLA into the tournament title game against Oregon on Saturday night.
Adams helped UCLA rally from an 11-point deficit in the final 10:20, and Kyle Anderson’s follow shot with 22.1 seconds was the last basket of the game. Arizona’s Solomon Hill then faked Adams into the air — Adams landed awkwardly when he came down, suffering the injury – but missed a 17-footer from the key with three seconds left, and time expired before either team could gain possession.
“There was so much mental toughness to be able to come back against a great team and a team that's going to be highly seeded and has a chance,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I mean, Arizona played really well today. Hat's off to them. They're a great team.
“You know, when we get into close games, we've got a great shot at winning close games. Our guys are just so mentally tough, and they find a way. I thought Jordan Adams was fantastic during that run when he came back and was in the zone, and his teammates were finding him.”
UCLA (25-8) has beaten Arizona (25-7) by nine, five and two points this season, and both long ago secured spots in the NCAA tournament. Arizona has been projected as a possible No. 4-5 seed, with UCLA considered a No. 5-6.
Shabazz Muhammad was the biggest factor in the first meeting, scoring 23 points in the Bruins’ 83-74 victory in Tucson on Jan. 24, while Larry Drew II had 14 points and nine assists while containing Wildcats point guard Mark Lyons in a 74-69 victory in Los Angeles. On Friday night it was Adams, although UCLA must do without him going forward.
“Jordan Adams is a great player,” Hill said. "He got snubbed from the (Pac-12) all-freshman team. Once he got going, he got to the free-throw line. Then, once you get a guy in rhythm, it is really hard to stop him, especially an explosive scorer."
Arizona made some matchup adjustments Friday, and it seemed to slow UCLA, which won despite shooting 39.3 percent from the field and being outrebounded 37-31. The Wildcats put off-guard Nick Johnson on Bruins point guard Drew, and it made a difference. Drew had difficulty penetrating and dishing, his M.O., and missed all five field-goal attempts in 37 minutes while getting four assists and two turnovers.
An equal-opportunity defender, Johnson held down Arizona State forward Jonathan Gilling in the final regular-season game and Colorado off-guard Spencer Dinwiddie in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
Hill hounded Muhammad in and around screens, once breaking through a double-pick on the right side to alter a Muhammad shot, and limited him to 11 points. That put Lyons on Adams, and that worked until Adams found his groove 30 minutes in.
“We went into this game determined not to let Larry Drew beat us the way he beat us in the first and second game,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "And, really, mission accomplished. Not that he didn't play an excellent game, but they went about it a different way. Jordan Adams really stepped up, and they made big plays. That's what March is about, making big plays. By the way, we made quite a few of them."
Lyons’ driving layup past Drew gave Arizona a 49-38 lead, an advantage built on strong play by freshmen Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski. Ashley had 15 points, his third-highest total of the season, Jerrett had eight points and Tarczewksi had six points and 13 rebounds, tying his season high.
Adams carried the load for UCLA from there. He made four free throws, two layups, two short jumpers and a 3-pointer from the right wing as the Bruins gradually got back in the game. Johnson (10 points, five assists) made a 3-pointer from the left wing as the shot clock wound down, but Adams’ 3-pointer and his second set of free throws after a technical foul on Miller tied it at 56 with 4:37 left. Miller was called for a technical after officials called Lyons for traveling, although replays seemed to indicate a defensive player touched the ball, which should have rendered the call unnecessary.
“The reason I got a technical foul is because I said, ‘He touched the ball.’ He touched the ball. When you show the replay here on ESPN in a few seconds, he (defender) touched the ball. He touched the ball. He touched the ball. He touched the ball. That's a hard one now when you work August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and here we are,” Miller said.
There were three ties and three lead changes the rest of the way. Hill’s cross-court pass set up Jerrett’s tying 3-pointer with 54.6 seconds left, and UCLA ran down most of the clock before Anderson followed Adams’ missed 3-point attempt for the final hoop.
The NCAA tournament brackets will be announced Sunday, but do not tell Hill that the game was merely a tuneup for the tournament. It had special significance to him, one of UA’s three senior starters.
“It mattered. It mattered more than anything. You are talking about a chance to get hats and T-shirts and celebrate and cut down some nets. We didn’t get a chance to cut down the nets in the regular season, so this would have been another chance,” said Hill, who won the league tournament in 2011 and played in the title game last year.
“This could have been the difference between a seed or two, and that can be a very big difference when you are trying to make a long run in the tournament. Instead of a five seed, we probably could have been a three seed if we win this tournament. It’s funny that way.