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UCLA Hoops Roundup: Ben Howland’s Bad Decisions

Ben Howland's bad decisions cost the Bruins a big win. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Ben Howland's bad decisions cost the Bruins a big win. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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So Ben Howland's Bruins are off to a 0-1 start in the PAtheticC-12 conference season. What is eating away at many of us is how we blew a winnable game against an average team because of bad coaching decisions. Tracy Pierson at singled out Howland's bad and dumb founding decision to come out in M2M defense as the reason UCLA lost against Stanford: (piece is not behind the subscription firewall at the time of this post):

It was a game in which you could find much wrong with it. UCLA got down 6-13 in the first 6 minutes of the game due entirely to the fact that it was playing man defense. In the last 14 minutes of the first half, when it switched to its zone, UCLA "won," 17-11. It's difficult to understand why Ben Howland would use the incredibly poor man defense and get UCLA in such a hole to begin the game. It's not as if the zone is going to be sprung on Stanford as a surprise. It's not as if UCLA really has a chance of moving between man and zone effectively, since it's pretty much proven out that the man, if played beyond a possession here or there, will make UCLA one of the worst teams in the conference. Did he use it for the first 6 minutes merely because there is some miniscule hope that Howland is clinging to that the man D might be effective? It clearly was the reason UCLA lost this game. It clearly put UCLA in a hole it just couldn't ever climb out of, having 8 chances to take the lead over the Cardinal after the zone allowed the Bruins to climb back in, but not having enough to make it over the hump. What if UCLA had played the zone from the beginning and didn't have to "get over the hump?" If man defense, perhaps, kept players fresher we could understand, but a man D tires out players quicker, and makes foul-prone bigs more vulnerable to fouls. Then, down the stretch, after the zone defense had gotten UCLA back in this game, Howland returned to the man, almost like Howland doesn't still trust the zone, even though it's clearly the #1 element of this team that has made it even remotely competitive this season. With the Bruins down 57-58 and 1:25 left in the game, a not-quick Aaron Bright took Jones, who isn't a great man defender and at this point in the game very tired (playing 38 minutes in this game) off the dribble with ease. Josh Smith had to step over to help and fouled Bright, which anyone could have predicted would happen - with it being Smith's fifth foul. This has to be one of the most inexplicable times to ever opt for the man D, when the only real talent advantage you have on the floor, your center, has four fouls.

Emphasis ours throughout. More after the jump.

Tracy also rightly called out Howland's bad timeout management that had an effect on lack of good decisions at the end of the game. Then there was the issue of minute allocation - a topic that has been a huge source of consternation among UCLA hoops community this season and in last 3 years:

Then, there is determination of playing time. We've been maintaining all year that Stover needs to get Wear minutes, and this was a game where it was abundantly evident. Stover played 7 minutes, and those 7 minutes were when UCLA played its best and made its first-half run that got the Bruins back in the game. He's a defensive force that has a chance to be one of the few elite strengths of the team and, after the game that the Wears had, it's clear that Stover needs to get on the court. The Wears, between the two of them, played 55 minutes. And then there's Brendan Lane, who played for one possession, ran up the court, and then was taken out. Lane, at the very least, is a better athlete than either Wear and could add a more athletic dimension to the zone. When the Wears combine for such a poor game you'd think that Lane, at least, deserves more of a chance.

Amazingly in his post game comments Howland sounded completely tone deaf.

While it was the lack of defense - specifically from the Wear Twins - that killed our chances to take control of the game early, Howland amazingly focused on our offense:

The Wear twins combined for seven points.

"We've got to get more offensive production out of those two," Howland said. "David he thinks too much at times where he gets wound up to where he's maybe going too fast. He needs to slow down on offense."

Really coach? You are worried about offense? Did he not notice that it was David Wear getting PWNed on the defensive end that was leading to clutch Stanford buckets in crunch time. Did he not notice that it was David Wear who failed to clear out in 2 of the 3 straight three point makes late in the second half, that allowed the Trees to cling to their slim lead. Did he not notice that it was lack of basic box out skills from the Wear twins that resulted in the Trees advantage in the rebounding department?

Howland also mentioned:

"This was a disappointing finish to a game where we fought back hard," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

Someone ought to point it out to him that it was his disappointingly bad coaching moves that put the Bruins in a hole to begin with putting us in a tough position where we had to fight back. It happened against Richmond but we recovered against that team at the Sports Arena. We didn't have that luxury in a true road game.

Howland may have had a great start at UCLA and we are grateful for the Final-4 runs. However, he used up all his capital after the unacceptable losing season two years ago. While last year was barely above average it also featured multiple disappointing losses during which a defensively lethargic UCLA team blew winnable games.

I am sure Howland really cares about the Coach's program but as of right now he is not getting the job done. If his bad decisions continue cost us victories and result in a non-tourney season, he will turn into a sorry lame duck coach. It will be up to us to demand Chancellor Gene Block complete the regime change at the top of the athletic department, so we can have a competent AD conduct a hiring search and bring in a head coach who can make the Bruins nationally relevant again.

Get this thing back on track Ben. Time is running out.