Coach Ben Howland anointed himself as the "Caretaker of Westwood" guarding the tradition and prestige of a program built by the greatest coach in college sports (if not American sports landscape). He got off to a wonderful start when was able to resurrect the UCLA basketball program from the wreckage left behind the previous "head coach" by winning the conference and making a run all the way to the national championship game within three years. He followed it up with two more Pac-10 titles and Final-4 runs arguably making a case for himself as most successful coach in Post-Wooden era.
However, consider the following ugly milestones Ben Howland has already set during his seventh season in Westwood:
- UCLA lost to Cal State Fullerton for the first time in school history under Howland (Bruins were 9-0 against the Titans prior to this season's debacle).
- UCLA lost to Portland for the first time in program history (Bruins were 3-0 against the Pilots prior to the humiliation in Anaheim).
- UCLA lost to Cal State Long Beach State for the first time in school history under Howland (Bruins were 11-0 against the 49ers dating back to 1970).
- UCLA lost to Southern Cal by its worst margin ever in Pauley Pavilion.
- UCLA's lost to the Trogans by the worst margin since 1945.
- UCLA got swept by the Trogans for only the 5th time since 1942-43.
- UCLA lost to Washington by the worst margin ever when it got destroyed by a score of 68-97 in Seattle last night on national television.
- Bruins home attendance record to date (8,045 per game) is the third worst in Pauley's history ["Only two other seasons have they averaged fewer: 7,855 in 1987-88 and 7,810 in 1992-93."].
If not for a buzzer beater by Mustafa Abdul-Hamid against Concordia (!!!) there would have been another bullet point above. Moreover, the season is not even over yet with potentially ugly road trips looming in Arizona. There is also more than a 50-50 chance that Howland will set a school record with his second losing season in Westwood. In fairness, his first losing season should be attributed to Steve Lavin in the record books. Still it would be unprecedented for a coach like Howland to be responsible for a losing season after rebuilding this program in Westwood.
What does this all mean? Of course this is not a post arguing that Howland needs to go. However, this is a post in which we want to emphasize to Howland he need to look himself in the mirror before things spin even more out of control. If he wants to salvage this season and finish on a positive note, he must set the tone for next year by playing his underclassmen, while rewarding a senior like Michael Roll, who have given four plus years of blood, sweat and tears for this program. It means Howland needs to get back to what made him great at UCLA.
Howland needs to get back to committing himself to putting on players on the court who are dedicated to his vision of defense, fundamentals and 40 minutes of focus, intensity and effort. Otherwise, if Howland sticks to the same formula rest of this season, there is a good chance he will be setting more ugly milestones, and losing more than just basketball games at UCLA. He will be throwing away his reputation, which once again was tarnished on national TV (also at the expense of the program he is supposed to be take care for Coach Wooden) this season.