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UCLA Basketball

Jordan Adams' injury changes everything for UCLA

Bruins might be seen as damaged goods by the NCAA selection committee, even with a strong record and the Pac-12 regular-season title.

March 16, 2013|By Chris Foster

LAS VEGAS — Jordan Adams wasn't the only person being pushed through the MGM Grand casino in a wheelchair Saturday morning.

He was just the youngest.

The Bruins plowed ahead, marching in formation — Coach Ben Howland at point and Adams on the back end — past the slot machines and gaming tables on their way to practice.

It captured the moment: Everything's a crapshoot from here on out.

Adams' broken right foot is as much a game-changer as was his play in a 66-64 victory over Arizona on Friday.

UCLA played Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament final late Saturday. A victory would seem to assure the Bruins get what they desire: a spot in the West for the NCAA tournament.

The Bruins, after all, would have the regular-season title and conference tournament title in their trophy case. Asked if there was any way the committee could deny them a spot in the West Regional, forward Travis Wear said, "I don't think so. Not with our body of work."

Think again. Injuries matter to the committee.

Adams' broken foot, suffered in the last seconds as he challenged Solomon Hill's potential score-tying shot, has already been duly noted by committee members. UCLA is now viewed as damaged goods, with only the Oregon game to prove otherwise.

The injury will affect UCLA's status when the NCAA tournament selection committee convenes Sunday. All Bruins fans have to do is Google what committee Chairman Mike Bobinski said when Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel suffered a season-ending knee injury last month,

"We will clearly be watching them closely to see how they are able to play without a young man who clearly has been an important part of their success to this point," Bobinski told USA Today.

Kentucky has a 4-4 record since Noel was injured. The Wildcats are now considered a bubble team.

Teams that lose key players are subject to a downgrade. There is precedent.

Cincinnati was the top-ranked team heading into the last week of the 2000 season. The Bearcats were a lock to be a No. 1-seeded team, but star forward Kenyon Martin broke his leg during the Conference USA tournament. Cincinnati went into the NCAA tournament as a No. 2-seeded team and lost in the second round.

St. Mary's was 18-1 in 2009 when point guard Patty Mills suffered a broken hand. He returned for the West Coast Conference tournament but was not in top form. The Gaels added an extra game, playing Eastern Washington after the conference tournament, trying to convince the committee. St. Mary's was denied an NCAA tournament invitation despite a 26-6 record.

The Bruins, 25-8 heading into the Oregon game, have compiled an impressive resume, which includes a three-game sweep of Arizona.

"We had some tough losses, but we won the Pac-12 regular season," Wear said. "If we win the Pac-12 tournament, we put ourselves in a good position."

Howland said last week that he was less concerned about where the Bruins would be seeded than he was about where they would be playing.

"Playing close to home, that's big for us," Wear said.

Adams' absence could change those plans. He leaves a big hole in on an already-thin team.

Adams is second in scoring (15.3). He leads the team in free-throw percentage (84%) and steals (2.2). He had 24 points in the victory over Arizona, including a 13-point spree in the last six minutes.

"We want to be in the West," Wear said. "We want to be close to home when the big tournament rolls around. We beat Arizona three times."

But as the Bruins march forward, the selection committee will certainly notice the guy in the wheelchair bringing up the rear.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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