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A New Era for UCLA Hoops (w/ A Little Flashback)

There is a nice article on Ben Ball today in the San Jose Mercury News. If the name of the author - John Wilner - sounds familiar to you it's not a mistake. Wilner used to cover the UCLA beat for Daily News (a paper that has always had great reporters covering our Bruins). Anyways Wilner has a profile on Howland's basketball program and he observes how it's different from the program built by Jim Harrick, the last coach to hang a banner inside Pauley:

The Bruins (17-1) are better than they were this time last year but perhaps not as good as they'll be this time next year. (There are no seniors on the roster.)

And if that kind of annual dominance sounds familiar, it should. UCLA Coach Ben Howland is doing in Westwood what Pete Carroll did with the USC football team: using his school's tradition to fuel recruiting and restore the glory of the 1960s and '70s.

Since finding their groove in the middle of last season, the Bruins are 34-4 with three of the defeats coming by a total of eight points. (Their only loss this season was at Oregon, 68-66.)

The No. 3 ranking is the highest UCLA has brought to Berkeley and Palo Alto since February 1995, when Jim Harrick's team was No. 2 and on its way to the school's 11th national championship. In fact, Harrick brought a series of highly ranked teams to the Bay Area in the early- and mid-'90s.

But this team has a different feel than the Harrick versions, which were super skilled and fun to watch but invariably fragile -- vulnerable to letdowns, to getting outcoached, to off-court distractions, on-court tantrums and egos run amok.

This team does not dazzle like the Harrick teams dazzled; it grinds. It does not outscore opponents; it smothers them. It is big and strong and mentally tough -- closer in style and psychology to the teams Howland coached at Pittsburgh than to the free-wheeling, fast-breaking Pac-10 outfits we're accustomed to seeing in Tucson, Eugene and Seattle.
I think the article is fairly on point. However, I do believe it is a bit unfair to imply that the 1994-95 team was mentally soft like the other Harrick teams. That team is the toughest Bruin team I have had the pleasure to root for during my 20 something years of being  a hard core Bruin fan.

I still remember screaming my lungs out and jumping around the coffee table when J.R. (a true freshman) sank those two free throws to beat Kentucky early in the season during the Wooden Classic. If you remember the legend around those FTs apparently Ed' O had told J.R. right before he took those shots something to the effect of "if you don't make these I will kill you." lol

And there were was this:

Yeah not exactly fragile stuff there.

Anyways didn't mean to get off on a tangent. I just wanted another excuse to post that video.

Going back to topic of the post it's still a pretty good article by Wilner. I do remember being very frustrated by the occasional meltdowns of those Harrick teams. But that 1994-95 made up for lot of the agony during my first three years at UCLA (91-94).  And now it seems like Howland has that mental toughness aspect of our hoops program one of the basic foundation of UCLA basketball.

Anyways it's always nice to see a traditional media writer noting the points we have been writing and celebrating about Ben Ball here on Bruins Nation. It's something we have been relishing here every day.