UCLA will open its Las Vegas schedule against a red-hot Oregon team that has won eight straight games. If nothing else, the matchup between the Pac-12′s two top offenses could result in the most entertaining game yet at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Here are five key questions heading into Thursday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal.
1. How will Jordan Adams play? UCLA’s top scorer has run hot and cold this season, most recently following up a career-high 31 points against Washington with seven against Washington State.
The sophomore’s point totals have ebbed and flowed along with the Bruins’ wins and losses. In five of the team’s six conference losses, Adams averaged 8.8 points and shot 3-of-20 from beyond the arc. (In the sixth, a double-overtime loss to Oregon, Adams served a suspension along with All-Pac-12 point guard Kyle Anderson.)
“We’ve got to do a better job as a team and as coaches to make sure that we are screening and cutting and getting things set up for him to get some easy baskets,” head coach Steve Alford said this week. “He’s getting some tough assignments now. … We are obviously a much better and different team when Jordan has been clicking.”
Adams also broke his foot at the end of last year’s semifinal win over Arizona, which should give him a little extra motivation to shine.
2. Can UCLA’s bench hold the edge? Alford has praised the bench play of his son, Bryce, and Zach LaVine for most of the season — holding it up as one advantage the Bruins have against most opponents.
Well, Oregon’s reserves popped off an absurd 46 points on Wednesday night against Oregon State. Jason Calliste is the most efficient shooter in the conference, and lit up the Beavers for 17 points on just five field goal attempts. His 52.5-percent average from beyond the arc could be deadly for a UCLA defense that struggles to limit 3-point attempts.
The Bruins also need LaVine to attack the basket and establish himself early. The freshman averaged 13.3 points over four games, but closed the regular season with an 0-for-8 showing against WSU.
3. Is Dominic Artis finally breaking out? Oregon’s sophomore point guard has been relegated to the bench, but had his best game of the season on Wednesday night. He paced the Ducks with six assists, and scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting. He also hit both his 3-point attempts — marking his first makes from long range since Feb. 6.
The former four-star prospect served a nine-game suspension at the start of the season, and has seen his stats dip across the board since a promising freshman campaign. If he plays well, the Bruins second unit will have a tough time defending him.
4. Can the Bruins play well away from Pauley? It’s old hat at this point, but UCLA showed almost no toughness on the road this season, going 0-for-4 on the tail end of Pac-12 road trips. The MGM Grand Garden Arena will be a neutral site, but Ducks fans travel well and could tilt the noise level.
Leave Las Vegas without a win, however, and Alford’s team could easily drop to eighth or ninth. That would almost certainly pit UCLA against a No. 1 seed in the round of 32, setting up an early exit from March Madness.