Updated: March 22, 10:48 p.m. In the immortal words of Roseanne Roseannadanna: “Never mind.”
Complain if you want to, but Ben Howland has earned another season. I won’t lose a ton of sleep if the UCLA coach is fired in a week or two, but given the turnaround from the last two campaigns, he’s done enough for a return engagement.
Following the Bruins’ disastrous 14-18 season of 2010-2011 with a 19-14, controversy-filled 2011-2012, Howland was in-and-out-heartbreak close to dismissal and being run out of town on a rail a year ago at this time. Instead, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero laid down the law, gave his man a year to redeem himself, demanding changes in almost every department, and for the most part got them.
Yes, Howland’s clubs still manage to either lose to or almost lose to inferior clubs early and often, in at times excruciating fashion. Yes, his players jumped ship again; and while Tyler Lamb was no star and Josh Smith a mass of frustration (emphasis on the mass part), a team simply cannot lose scholarship players mid-stream without it affecting the unit as a whole, let alone have enough bodies to participate properly.
I often wonder, when these kids come to his office prepared to bail, if Howland ever tries to smooth things over and actually asks them to reconsider. Ever. Like say, “we can work it out, please stay.”
But even with the early-season awful loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the near-loss to Irvine, even with the transfers – not to mention Shabazz Muhammad’s missing his team’s first three games due to suspension – even with all that and the struggles in various aspects of play, UCLA managed a season-changing 10-game winning streak from December 8 to January 16 and had a shot at a Pac-12 title despite losing three of its next four games.
And win in the conference they did. Say what you will about the Pac-12; RPI ratings or whatever; it’s always a goal to win the conference and it’s no small thing that UCLA got there. The Bruins won seven of nine to finish the regular season, beat Arizona a third time in the conference tournament, Howland had his team peaking at the exact right time, and let’s be honest, they were going to beat Oregon last night and head into the NCAAs on an almost unimaginable high.
If not for one misstep by Jordan Adams, which you can’t blame on Howland. You just can’t.
Look, this is no perfect coach we’re talking about here. Issues remain. I don’t know why Howland’s guys don’t use the glass like UCLA teams have for decades, I don’t understand the consistent ineffectiveness out of timeouts and not a one among us gets the timeout strategy generally.
Obviously there’s no excuse for Howland’s hurling his jacket into the stands last night, the technical which had to follow, and the two free points for the opponent, but at least there was some crispness on that one pass.
All that said, with Adams available UCLA was headed exactly in the right direction. After the last two seasons you couldn’t have asked for more. Not reasonably anyway. They’d have beaten the Ducks to finish 26-8, gotten a good seed to open March Madness at Salt Lake City, and quite possibly played their way to a Sweet 16. Or better.
You can’t fire the coach after 28 or 30 wins in a comeback season. You just can’t. Let’s see what happens with the crappier seed and draw. Maybe UCLA surprises with a win or two or three. Either way, Howland deserves one more year.