LAS VEGAS -- Tears trickled down Larry Drew II's cheeks as he walked through the long corridor leading to UCLA’s locker room Friday. Eventually the Bruins point guard pulled his jersey over his face, shouted a profanity and began to sob.
Trailing a few steps behind, guard Kyle Anderson clasped his hands on top of his head and dropped his jaw. “Oh my god!” he said. “Oh my god!”
Less than a half hour earlier, UCLA had advanced to the title game of the Pac-12 tournament with a 66-64 semifinal victory over rival Arizona. But shortly after leaving MGM Grand Garden Arena court pumping their fists in celebration and waving to the crowd, the Bruins were hit with some sobering news.
An X-ray revealed that freshman Jordan Adams, the team’s second-leading scorer, had broken a bone in his right foot on the final play of the game. He will miss the remainder of the season.
UCLA coach Ben Howland received the news from Bruins trainer Laef Morris as he exited a postgame news conference that was also attended by Drew II and Anderson. The players overheard the conversation and immediately became emotional.
Drew swore loudly before reaching the locker room, where Howland informed the rest of the team about Adams’ injury.
Adams, who scored a game-high 24 points, was among the players trying to defend a potential game-tying shot by Wildcats forward Solomon Hill as time expired.
A 6-foot-5 freshman guard, Adams didn’t seem seriously injured as the final buzzer sounded. He hobbled through the handshake line and then retreated to the locker room for X-rays. Soon after, it was revealed that Adams had broken the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. Adams, who left the arena on crutches, suffered a similar injury in high school.
“It doesn’t get worse than this,” forward Travis Wear said.
Adams, who averages 15.3 points, proved how much he means to the Bruins on Friday. In what was arguably his finest performance as a collegian, Adams helped his team rally from an 11-point second-half deficit. The victory marked UCLA’s third triumph this season over the Wildcats.
“We didn’t even celebrate the win,” freshman Shabazz Muhammad said. “It’s just doesn’t seem right for someone to get hurt like that this late in the year.”
The main storyline surrounding UCLA this season has been its resiliency. Bruins fans were calling for Howland’s firing after an early loss to Cal Poly and narrow victories over Cal-Irvine and struggling Texas. Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb transferred from the program before the end of the first semester.
But the Bruins just got tougher.
Despite counting three freshmen (Adams, Anderson and Muhammad) among its top players, UCLA improved at a rapid pace and won the Pac-12 regular-season title.
“It’s been hard for us all year, with the transfers and the little nagging injuries and now this,” Drew II said. “It’s tough. But there’s something about this team. We find ways to make things happen when it seems like all is lost.”
UCLA, however, has not suffered a setback as significant as the loss of Adams this season. The freshman has at times this season played better than Anderson and Muhammad, his more highly touted classmates.
Adams scored 13 straight points during UCLA’s second-half rally Friday. The Bruins trailed 49-38 before staging their comeback. Adams was 6-of-13 from the field and 11-of-13 from the foul stripe.
This injury likely means that backup Norman Powell will slide into a starting role. Powell is already a significant part of the rotation, contributing 21.2 minutes and 5.9 points off the bench.
UCLA’s players said they’re confident Powell will step up to the challenge in Saturday’s Pac-12 tournament title game against Oregon -- and again during the NCAA tournament, which begins next week. The Bruins, 25-8, have won eight of their past 10 games.
“I just know we’ve got tough guys out there -- physically and mentally and psychologically,” Anderson said. “Norman Powell is a really tough player. It’s a terrible loss, but it’s not as bad knowing that we’ve got him coming in to fill that spot.
“It’s going to be tough to go without him, but it’s all part of handling adversity, and that’s something we’ve shown we’re pretty good at.”