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Basketball Perspective: Looking at the Long Term

What does the win over Missouri mean in the bigger scheme of UCLA Basketball?

Stephen Dunn

The UCLA community has their collective knickers in a twist right now. Everybody needs to calm down and realize that long term nothing has changed. For those who want Ben Howland fired long ago, the Missouri game likely means he saved his job for the season but he is still gone at the end of the year. For those of you who think this is UCLA Basketball 2008 when a final four run was a certainty, this was just one game and Howland has still not had a UCLA worthy year since 2008.

Reality is we stand exactly where we started the season but the road getting there is entirely different than we thought. But all UCLA fans, Howland supporters or not, must keep your eyes on the long term:

  • 2008 was the last time UCLA went to the final four
  • 2008 was the last time UCLA won a PAC title
  • Since 2008, UCLA has not even made the sweet 16 and missed the tournament twice

A UCLA coach cannot keep his job going five years without a PAC title. UCLA should ALWAYS be in the tournament conversations in March and often in late March or early April. Howlers, traditionalists, Lavin fans, etc. everyone should agree with this. I hope all UCLA fans can agree that a coach that has been out achieved by every other coach in UCLA history post Wooden the last five years should be fired. (All at least finished first in PAC in a four year or less period, except Larry Brown who went to the National Championship game and Steve Lavin who was fired despite going to the sweet 16 three years in a row before being fired for missing the tournament.)

So Howland should be gone barring a PAC 12 title and final four or better. Quite frankly so should Athletic Director Dan Guerrero for keeping this going so long. (And his latest foible, having the camera pointing at the alumni instead of the students is screw up #156 on the list of reasons why he should be fired.)

With that out of the way, what happen in the Missouri game or in the broader sense the non-conference season? Ten quick thoughts:

10. Shabazz is the real deal. Shabazz is shooting 50% from the field, 48% from three, and averaging 19.6 points per game but it was more than the stats. When some were tired or feeling pressure, Shabazz hit two big threes in overtime that won the Missouri game. The left handed Shabazz even made a right hand hook during the game and showed he can score against anyone. Of course, Shabazz also jogs back on defense and releases early but the latter is part of the UCLA plan now.

9. Jordan Adams is a gamer. Jordan had a bad game going 4-13 from the field but he took the most important shot of the game perfectly and with confidence to tie the game and send it to overtime. Jordan has shown to shockingly be a better defender than most on this team and is second on the team in steals and averaging a respectable 4.2 rebounds per game. He also seems to be the happy warrior.

8. UCLA is ranked #14 in the nation in points scored and #6 in assists. This is the best offense under Ben Howland. Against Missouri we saw a team that played near perfect on offense after a slow start. The scored on the run with 36 points off turnovers. After a rough start (3-15) UCLA went 37-64 or 58% for the rest of the game.

7. For the first time, I saw the advantage of the Wears. And it is not just the fact they had their best games as Bruins. As bigs who can reliably make mid-range jumpers they force the opposing bigs to come away from the basket. The empty lane helps Shabazz, Adams, even Drew. Missouri's bigs were confused on what to do as a result. Guard the basket and get burned outside by the Wears or get sucked out to cover Wears and leave the lane open. It is how the Wears can work as a center on offense.

6. However, Howland or someone realized the flaws of two Wears. With the game on the line Howland went two Wears and we were getting killed on the boards. Kyle Anderson was rushed into the game over David Wear. And that is the ironic thing for this team. Kyle Anderson is the best defensive rebounder on the team. Kyle who is listed as a guard and wants to be a point guard, is our best four and really needed for his defense.

5. Norman Powell shows flashes but is inconsistent. In some ways, he has the highest potential on the team. Tony Parker should play more in games against FSU and Long Beach but he doesn't necessarily fit in games like these. Both Powell and Parker though are potential major players for the future and Howland must keep them engaged for the next season.

4. Howland's recent team always improve or, put the other way, always start poorly. This one is no different. I wrote about it here:

  • 2011-12 stated 2-5, rest of the season 17-9
  • 2010-11 started 3-4, rest of season 20-7
  • 2009-10 started 3-7, rest of season 11-11

3. Howland went away from what work so well for him in 2006-8, his plan has both succeeded and failed spectacularly this year.

Howland's three Final Four teams ranked third, second and third in defensive efficiency. This team ranks 121st. Howland's three Final Four teams ranked 300th, 266th and 217th in tempo. This team ranks 59th. Translation: Howland's best coaching years featured teams that guarded like crazy on one end and played really slow on the other. This team can't guard at all and runs at every opportunity, and it's why UCLA might be college basketball's most compelling story.

2. That CBS article above else mentioned a national brand. Too often we forget how great UCLA is and how important our history is. Listen to a Missouri fan:

Roll Call - I really liked one of the traditions the UCLA student section did just before the game began. As the Bruins were warming up, they did what they call "roll call". The students chanted the name of each player, whether they were a starter or a walk on, after they took their turn in layup line. It's a small thing the student section does, but it shows the players how much they care about them. Roll call is something I would love to see Mizzou basketball fans start up. Everyone that goes to games with me knows I love walk-on and coach's son Corey Haith. Roll call would be a great way for me to show my appreciation for Corey, while also letting each and every player on the team know that the student body has their backs.

History, History, History - I have never seen a team talk about its past more than UCLA. Instead of a pre-game pump up video, the Bruins talk about their past successes, mentioning all their past titles and conference championships. As Mizzou fans know, we have had some heartbreak against the Bruins in the past, most notably when Tyus Edney went court to court in four seconds to beat the TIgers back in 1995. The Bruins didn't forget about that game, as they had Edney back as an honorary captain for the game. At halftime, they interviewed Edney about his experience beating Missouri. Before the game, they had a promo saying that Missouri basketball has nightmares about UCLA losses. While Frank Haith, Phil Pressey, and Laurence Bowers might have nightmares about last night, they sure aren't having nightmares about Tyus Edney. I've never seen a team bring up a game from 17 years ago so much.

Atmosphere - I'll admit, before the game, I was skeptical about how great the atmosphere of Pauley Pavilion could be. Everyone talks about it being one of the best places to watch a college basketball game, but when I arrived the arena was empty. I was proved wrong very quickly, however. Despite it being winter break, the stadium was packed by the time the game started. UCLA fans knew when to cheer on their team and at what time. The only other game at which I heard a stadium so loud for college basketball was when I went to Mizzou-Kansas last season in Columbia. I can't even imagine how packed and loud Pauley would be when school is in session and the Bruins are playing a conference rival like USC.

1. To sum it up . CBS again (emphasis mine):

Their coach is coaching for his job.

Their star might be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA Draft.

And they're good enough on offense to beat a team ranked seventh and bad enough on defense to lose to a team called California Polytechnic State University, and, really, what's wilder than that?

So for my part I am going to enjoy the ride. I think this is a PAC 12 competitive team that washes out at the sweet 16. And that means Howland is fired. No one should forget that.

So for those like me who think Howland should have been fired previously, please join me in gladly eating crow if UCLA wins the PAC 12 and hangs up Banner 12 this year.

But for those of you defending a "huge" win against Missouri, promise you will join us in DEMANDING the ouster of Ben Howland (and optionally Dan Guerrero for getting us in the mess) if UCLA only gets to a Steve 16 in the tournament for the first time in five years so we won't have to wait 5 more years for that pathetic result again.

For that is where we are. Bruins Nation will keep reminding people a "nice" season with huge wins is not good enough for Holwand to keep his job. He is gone barring a PAC 12 championship and a deep run. If you think UCLA should be happy going five years without a PAC 12 title or making a sweet 16, then move on. As the Missouri fan said history is important to UCLA fans. UCLA basketball is special and shame on Howland for making some forget that.

Go Bruins.