NCAA tournament pregame: Smith unsure about using pressure D

Andrew Krammer

The Gophers dodged a bullet by the name of Jordan Adams.

UCLA’s freshman guard Adams broke his foot in the PAC-12 semifinal against Arizona. Minnesota fans can look back to 2011, when starting point guard Al Nolen broke his foot in January, and relate to the Bruins’ dismay.

Adams’ injury comes at a far worse time for his regular season PAC-12 championship team. The guard will miss just his second game of the season when Minnesota and UCLA tipoff in the second round of the NCAA tournament at 9:10 p.m. CT.

Minnesota vs. UCLA is the final game of the day in Austin, Texas, and only adds to the week-long break the Gophers have had since their first-round exit to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament last week.

“We’ve had a lot more time on our hands so we’ve looked at a lot more of UCLA’s stuff,” reserve center Elliott Eliason said.

All but one game of UCLA’s “stuff” includes Adams, who leads the Bruins in steals per game and was their go-to three-point shooter.

Forcing turnovers and hitting three-pointers? It should remind you of Minnesota’s Achilles heels – if you had to pick two of them. The Gophers' 14 turnovers per game marked the worst during the Big Ten’s regular season and converted into losing 11 of their last 16 games.

Andre Hollins committed a team-high four turnovers against Illinois on March 14.

“We can’t turn the ball over like we have been,” Hollins said. “We know what type of team we are when we don’t do those things.”

Without Adams, the Bruins average less than six steals per game and don’t put a lot of pressure on the ball otherwise. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad is the Bruins’ most prolific scorer (17.8 ppg), but like UCLA showed in the PAC-12 championship game, each of its starters can put up double digits.

Coach Tubby Smith alluded Thursday that the Gophers pressure defense hasn’t come together how he would’ve liked. With Adams on the bench, there’s one less ball handler for the Gophers to pressure and one less man in UCLA’s already short eight-man rotation (now seven).

But Smith still isn’t confident in his team’s defense to say he’ll play a full-court press to try and tire out the seven Bruins players.

“They’re a pretty good ball handling team. They led the PAC-12 in assists, so I’m not sure if [pressuring] is the best strategy to employ,” Smith said.