LOS ANGELES -- It’s only a few days before the NCAA tournament begins, and the UCLA Bruins, just like the 67 other teams in the field, are in scramble mode.
Coaches across the country are scouring sources to get video on second-round opponents so that they can cobble together a game plan for a team that they know very little about.
Ben Howland is no stranger to the ritual, having taken nine previous teams to the Big Dance, but UCLA’s coach is pulling double duty this week. Not only is he trying to come up with a scouting report on the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who UCLA will face Friday in Austin, Tex., but the loss of freshman guard Jordan Adams to a broken foot means Howland is also trying to come up with new ways for his own team to play.
Adams, the team’s second leading scorer, is out for the remainder of the season after landing awkwardly on his foot during the final play of UCLA’s Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinal victory over the Arizona Wildcats last Friday in Las Vegas. It’s a devastating blow to the Bruins’ chances of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament, as the injury further depletes a thin roster, but the Bruins have no choice but to adjust and adapt on the fly.
Norman Powell is now starting in place of Adams. Kyle Anderson will be asked to play some small forward after playing mostly power forward this season. Larry Drew II will have to become a shooting guard at times after spending the season as one of the nation’s premier point guards. Everyone, including little-used center Tony Parker, will get an increase in minutes.
“It’s all adjustments,” Howland said. “We’re going to figure out how we’re going to do some things offensively with Norman and Larry in the backcourt together both being smalls. We’ve got some things that I’m excited about that we need to work on that I think will help us.”
The loss of Adams leaves a lot of holes on the floor for UCLA. He was averaging 15.3 points and 3.8 rebounds and had a conference-leading 73 steals. He was capable of carrying the team offensively for stretches -- as he did with 24 points in his final game of the season -- and was always assigned to defend the opposing team’s top wing player.
He was a key cog in a Bruins offense that led the Pac-12 in scoring this season, and his injury is largely considered the reason why UCLA dropped to a No. 6 seed and was shipped to Austin -- the greatest distance any Pac-12 team has to travel -- despite winning the regular-season conference title.
This late in the season, it won’t be easy to replace someone who had that type of impact and court presence. By now, everyone has become accustomed to their roles, and the current lineup got UCLA this far. But with a rotation of only eight players now cut to seven, everyone is going to have a bit of a different role, whether it be an increased workload, added responsibilities on both ends of the floor, a new position or all of the above.
“We’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments,” leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad said. “Jordan is such a good player, and his offense is really good, so it’s something we’re going to have to change.”
Muhammad said he got a taste of what is to come during UCLA’s game against the Oregon Ducks Saturday in the Pac-12 tournament title game. The Ducks’ defense focused on stopping Muhammad, denying him the ball and double-teaming him even when he didn’t have the ball. It turned into a frustrating night for Muhammad, who made only five of 13 shots against the Ducks.
“They were really keying on me,” Muhammad said. “That’s what teams are going to do. Other guys have to step up.”
Adams, who is just as dangerous a scorer as Muhammad, could make teams pay for the “stop Muhammad” strategy. He did exactly that against the Arizona Wildcats. Muhammad had only 11 points in that game, but Adams saved the day. Powell, who started early before spending most of the season as a reserve, says he’s ready to get back in the starting lineup and will do his best to help fill the void.
“I feel like I can go in and give the team the same kind of lift that Jordan can,” Powell said. “I feel like we don’t lose that much. We still have to figure out our roles and everything like that with this game coming up because we have to make adjustments, but I feel like I’m ready.”
Howland said he will be much better prepared with his new-look rotation on Friday than he was last Saturday against Oregon. He said he was up at 3 a.m. trying to figure out a plan and then acknowledged trying to implement different looks during the game without having practiced them because of the short turnaround between games.
“I was looking at how to do the rotations and trying to figure out 'Can we run stuff through Kyle at the point and have Larry coming off screens?' Just all sorts of different things,” Howland said. “So, we've got things to hammer out here.”
Just like every other coach preparing for the tournament -- except different.