EUGENE, Ore. — There have been times when UCLA sophomore guard Jordan Adams has thought about last season’s Pac-12 Conference tournament championship game.
The Bruins reached the final riding on Adams’ back. They then were manhandled in the title game by Oregon because of his foot.
Adams suffered a broken bone on the last play against Arizona in the semifinals and could only watch the final.
“I wished I could have played,” Adams said. “We were a hot team. But things happened.”
Things happened Thursday. Only this time, Adams was left flashing his what-did-I-do grin. He got to play against Oregon and walked off with a 70-68 victory in Knight Arena.
His 19 points were big. His defensive effort was even bigger. Even when he lost the ball, it worked out well for the Bruins.
Adams had the ball knocked away as he went to the basket in the closing seconds. It went to Travis Wear, who dropped in an eight-foot shot with five seconds left for the victory.
It wasn’t as delicious as cutting down nets. But it was close, judging by the way Adams body-slammed into teammates at midcourt after a last-gasp shot by Oregon’s Johnathan Loyd fell harmlessly away.
“This feels good,” Adams said.
There were no trophies for this one, unless Coach Steve Alford hands out hardware for squandering an 11-point lead in the final six minutes. But there was an eyes-on-the-prize satisfaction.
The Bruins seemed to call it a night after taking a 65-54 lead. Oregon scored 14 consecutive points in five minutes.
Had the Bruins put the finishing touches on the collapse, Pac-12 officials could have started engraving “Arizona” on the championship trophy.
“This at least keeps them knowing that they’ve got to keep doing what they’re doing,” Alford said.
UCLA (17-4 overall, 6-2 in Pac-12 play) sits alone in second place behind Arizona (21-0, 8-0).
“Road wins are definitely how we can make up ground,” said Norman Powell, who had 17 points.
Alford was more interested in what the moment meant to his team.
“That takes great effort, to get that lead, then lose it and have enough poise and grit down the stretch,” Alford said.
Adams was the ramrod, both in getting the lead and in salvaging the night.
With Shabazz Muhammad, the Bruins’ offensive focal point last season, in the NBA, “The defenses are coming at me,” Adams said.
Adams made his first shot Thursday, then picked up two fouls.
“Cheap fouls,” Alford said. “He got out of the flow.”
Said Adams: “Coach has talked to me about being patient and the offense will come to me.”
It came to him in the second half. Adams scored eight consecutive points to break a 49-49 tie.
“He attacked the glass and scored easy points,” Wear said. “When someone is getting you easy buckets, it gives you energy.”
What Adams did when Oregon had the ball was just as vital. He had two steals during his scoring spree, part of a smothering defensive effort. UCLA held Oregon 18 points below its season average. The Ducks shot 39.6%.
Still, Oregon (14-6, 2-6) was in position to win the game. Adams, again, stepped in.
He cut to the basket, scored and was fouled. His free throw tied the score, 68-68, with 56 seconds left. It was still tied when the Bruins’ Kyle Anderson missed a jumper. Adams swooped in and tied up Oregon’s Richard Amardi. The possession arrow gave UCLA the ball, setting up the game-winning basket.
“Those ‘effort’ plays won us the game,” Alford said.
And gave Adams some amount of closure on last season.
“Had I played in that game, we would have won,” he said.