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UCLA’s Jordan Adams changes mind, will enter 2014 NBA Draft

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Nine days after announcing that he would return to UCLA for his junior season, guard Jordan Adams had a change of heart. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Adams has decided to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. The decision falls on the day of the NBA’s early entry deadline.

Adams, who averaged 17.4 points per game and earned first team All Pac-12 honors, was projected to be a late-first round selection by Draft Express before announcing that he would return to school. He’s the third Bruin to enter the NBA Draft this offseason, with point guard Kyle Anderson and shooting guard Zach LaVine doing so shortly after the end of UCLA’s season.

And with those three departures and the graduation of forwards David and Travis Wear, head coach Steve Alford has a lot of production to replace in 2014-15. UCLA’s leading returning scorer will be Norman Powell, who early this month was thought by some to be considering the possibility of turning pro as well. Powell averaged 11.4 points per game and was a much-improved offensive player in his first season playing for Alford.

Also returning is rising sophomore guard Bryce Alford, who averaged 8.0 points and 2.8 assists per game as one of the first two players off the bench (LaVine being the other). UCLA adds a four-member recruiting class led by forward Kevon Looney and center Thomas Welch, and they’ll also have guard Isaac Hamilton. Hamilton was forced to sit out all of last season his appeal to be released from the National Letter of Intent he signed to attend UTEP was denied.

But even with the talent due to arrive on campus, the loss of Adams hurts for a team that was thought to be one of Arizona’s biggest challengers in the Pac-12 with the high-scoring guard on board.

Defensive struggles cost No. 4 UCLA against No. 1 Florida

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Entering their game against No. 1 Florida, the general feeling was that No. 4 UCLA had the offensive weapons needed to challenge the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed. With an uncommon matchup at the point in the form of Kyle Anderson and guards Jordan Adams and Norman Powell both playing well, the Bruins are a difficult team more many opponents to slow down.

However the more important question was whether or not UCLA would have the tools needed to defend Florida, and the answer in their 79-68 loss was an emphatic “no.”

After failing to shoot 40% from the field in their first two NCAA tournament games Florida made 50% of its shots against UCLA, shooting 21-for-37 inside of the arc. And in the second half Florida shot 59.3% from the field, making 13 of its 19 two-point attempts. On the season UCLA’s opponents made 48.6% of their two-point attempts, but the Bruins were worse against a Florida team that continuously found the open areas as the game progressed.

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Part of that had to do with Michael Frazier II ending his shooting slump, thus providing Florida with the balance needed to enjoy better spacing. But whether it was in zone or man-to-man, UCLA simply could not keep the Gators from finding quality two-point looks. Thanks to their ability to force turnovers UCLA put together solid defensive efficiency numbers this season, but when unable to force those mistakes some of the Bruins’ deficiencies as individual defenders can be exposed.

Florida accounted for 22 assists and 12 turnovers Thursday night, a far cry from the 25 assists and 24 turnovers that Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin combined for against the Bruins last weekend in San Diego. UCLA scored 19 points off of those Gator turnovers, which kept them within striking distance for much of the evening.

But a 10-0 second-half run spearheaded by Scottie Wilbekin, who played a role in eight of those points, provided Billy Donovan’s team with the cushion needed to wrap up a fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance.

UCLA didn’t have its best night offensively, shooting 42.2% from the field and 3-for-18 from beyond the arc, but for them to not score as efficiently as they did a week ago was to be expected given Florida’s defensive ability. With this being the case the Bruins needed to consistently string together stops in the half court, but they were unable to do so.

Jordan Adams, supporting cast lead No. 4 UCLA past No. 13 Tulsa

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After winning the Pac-12 tournament title, South Region No. 4 UCLA entered the NCAA tournament with hopes of making a deep run. The debut in San Diego wasn’t the most consistent, but the Bruins finished the game on a 17-2 run as they put away No. 13 Tulsa by the final score of 76-59. Led by Jordan Adams, who finished the game with 21 points and eight rebounds, UCLA shot 46% from the field on the night and assisted on 17 of their 29 made baskets.

The Bruins took care of business despite an off night from sophomore guard Kyle Anderson, who committed five turnovers and shot just 3-for-11 from the field. Anderson did contribute in other areas, as he accounted for six rebounds, six assists and four steals to go along with his eight points. But what stood out for UCLA was the fact that multiple players (besides Adams) stepped forward against Tulsa.

Norman Powell, whose emphatic dunk with 1:19 sealed the game, scored 15 points and was also the primary defender assigned to James Woodard, Tulsa’s leading scorer. Averaging 15.7 points per game on the season, Woodard finished the game with 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. UCLA also received solid contributions from forwards Tony Parker and Travis Wear, with the former supplying 11 points and six rebounds off the bench and the latter scoring ten points on 5-for-5 shooting.

Given the skill level of both Adams and Anderson it’s a safe bet that those two will be productive on most nights. But for UCLA to make the most of its NCAA tournament experience, it can’t be a two-man show. Powell’s been much improved this season, and freshman guards Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine are both talented enough to contribute as well. If the UCLA supporting cast can show up consistently, the Bruins have a greater chance of being successful.

Next up for UCLA is No. 12 Stephen F. Austin, which eliminated No. 5 VCU in the first game of the night session. That will be a difficult matchup regardless of the seeding, with the Lumberjacks having won 29 straight games on the strength of a balanced offensive attack and a stout half-court defense. UCLA will certainly need a more productive Anderson, but Friday’s performance served as a reminder that there are others capable of helping the stars carry the load when needed.

Pac-12 Tournament: UCLA’s offense too much for No. 4 Arizona

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Arizona found itself in an unlikely, and unknown, scenario in the Pac-12 tournament final: its defense was completely ineffective. UCLA came out and, possibly invigorated by a combination of butterflies and the oxygen pumped into the MGM Grand, proceeded to thump the Wildcats, 75-71 and claim the title.

The first twenty minutes were among the most entertaining during this conference tournament week, and even though the Wildcats were able to keep up with UCLA’s torrid scoring, Sean Miller’s squad hadn’t faced a team yet this year that didn’t fold under Zona’s grinding pack-line defense.

When Jordan Adams hit a three-pointer off a simple flare screen with 43 seconds remaining in the game, a shot that broke a 68-all deadlock, it wasn’t luck: Arizona just couldn’t stop UCLA today. Other than Adams’ three, the final minute was anticlimatic and sloppy, the opposite of what had been 39 minutes of pure basketball.

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Before delving into the game’s particulars, it’s necessary to mention how ruthless — in a good way — this rivalry between UCLA and Arizona has become. The two teams battled for every single possession, rebound, and loose ball — Travis Wear diving and nearly sliding from half court to end line should make ‘One Shining Moment’ even though the tournament hasn’t begun — and the intensity displayed by the fifteen participants was truly special. The first half offensive efficiency rating reflects the higher plane both teams operated on: 1.34 PPP (Arizona, on just 32 possessions!) and 1.25 (UCLA).

Since Brandon Ashley was waylaid with a foot injury, the play of Aaron Gordon has drastically improved, and the forward showcased the uniqueness of his game versus the Bruins. Gordon has now shifted to a true frontcourt role, operating from the interior while in the halfcourt, and his ability to be a triple threat has helped evolve his game as well as Arizona’s offense. Whether dishing to Kaleb Tarczewski for dunks, or using his height to find the other Wildcats on the perimeter, or simply operating off the bounce and getting to the bucket, Gordon has transformed into a bigger mismatch.

Yes, Gordon, and the rest of Arizona, missed a bunch of free throws — two of eight (and the team missed six of sixteen), to be precise — but Gordon has been making them in past games, and this figures to be a one-game blip rather than a significant issue that could preclude Arizona going deep into NCAA play.

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With the win, UCLA pulled ahead of Arizona as the Pac-12 best team. This offense, when it is humming, is so difficult to stop: even when the Bruins came down to Earth in the second half, they were still scoring 1.12 PPP. When compared to the offensive efficiency rate of Arizona’s three Pac-12 losses — each of which were around .90 PPP — it is clearer that the consistency and efficiency of UCLA’s buckets was unparalleled.

UCLA presents difficult covers at each position. The Wear twins were heroes of the short corner against UA, hitting jumpers whenever their defender tried to help a Kyle Anderson drive, and Tony Parker, the much maligned big who has become a new player under Steve Alford, grabbed several key rebounds and is a bear in the paint.

Regardless of the seed UCLA receives on Sunday evening, the Bruins will be a problem. The speed at which they operate (the team has hovered around 69 possessions this season), the improved play of Jordan Adams and especially Norman Powell, the aforementioned mismatch capabilities of the other Bruins, and the ability of Kyle Anderson to be a match-up dilemma for any player not named Aaron Gordon means UCLA will be one of those teams a top seed wants no business facing either of first two weekends.

Pac-12 Tournament: UCLA uses big second half to march into semifinals

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Following their loss at Washington State in the regular season finale for both teams, there were some who wondered what was wrong with UCLA. The answer was simple: Steve Alford’s team didn’t play well against the Cougars, and the combination of less than optimal execution and a lack of energy factored into that disappointing result.

That wasn’t a problem on Thursday night as the Bruins began their Pac-12 tournament run with an 82-63 victory over an Oregon squad that had won eight in a row.

Jordan Adams led five Bruins in double figures with 15 points and Kyle Anderson added 11 to go along with eight rebounds and six assists, and as a team UCLA shot 56.5% from the field and 8-for-16 from beyond the arc. Oregon certainly had issues defensively, something that had not been the case for much of their eight-game win streak, but this was more about UCLA’s level of execution than anything the Ducks failed to do.

The Ducks were able to keep pace offensively in the first half, trailing by just two points at the intermission. But while the Bruins were consistently able to find quality looks that wasn’t the case for Oregon, which shot 35.5% from the field and 4-for-17 from beyond the arc in the game’s final 20 minutes. Joseph Young made ten of his 18 shots and scored 29 points, but no other Duck scored more than eight and as a group they combined to shoot 14-for-37.

UCLA may not have finished its regular season on the best note but this is still a talented group that can make some noise. The keys will be the defense and the play of the front court, with both David (11 points, four rebounds) and Travis Wear (14 points, five rebounds) performing well against Oregon. Friday’s matchup (Stanford or Arizona State) will provide more resistance from a size standpoint, but if they can perform well UCLA is more than capable of advancing.

UCLA suspends Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams for violation of team rules

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Oregon enters Thursday’s game at UCLA in need of quality wins for its resume, and accomplishing that task may have gotten easier for the Ducks. According to Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register, UCLA head coach Steve Alford has suspended guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams for one game due to a violation of team rules.

Both players will serve their suspensions immediately, ruling them out for Thursday night’s game. Clearly this is a big deal for the Bruins, with Anderson being one of the best point guards in college basketball and Adams being the team’s leading scorer.

The two combine to average 32.1 points per game, with Anderson supplementing his 14.9 points with 8.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per contest. As for Adams, he’s averaging 17.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 46.6% from the field and 37.7% from beyond the arc.

The teams have met once already this season, with UCLA winning 70-68 in Eugene on January 30. Anderson struggled for much of the night, accounting for just six points (1-for-8 FG) to go along with ten assists and a season-high nine turnovers. Adams didn’t have the same issues however, tallying 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting to go along with six rebounds and three steals.

Oregon’s had issues in conference play defending bigger guards, and the absence of Anderson and Adams removes that threat. But if the Ducks are to win it also adds an asterisk of sorts to a quality win, which doesn’t do Oregon much good.