Ben Howland indicated Saturday that while he is happy coaching at Pittsburgh, the UCLA opening intrigues him. Pitt officials answered by saying they would not let him leave without a struggle.
Howland does not hide his affinity for Southern California, where he grew up and began his coaching career.
The feeling is mutual, according to sources close to UCLA. As long Pitt is playing, Howland won't hear from UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. But once the season ends, he is expected to be on a short list of candidates that also includes Mark Few of Gonzaga, Rick Majerus of Utah and Tom Crean of Marquette.
Roy Williams of Kansas would shoot to the top of the list if he gives Guerrero a signal through intermediaries that he would be interested. But that is a long shot, sources said.
Publicly, Howland is as guarded as Few and Majerus, both of whom also privately say they would consider the job. Few might be the first to get an interview because his team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament Saturday.
"I'm not even worried about [UCLA]," Howland said. "It's all premature. We are trying to win a championship."
Pitt officials told Howland, 45, they will discuss sweetening his contract after the season. Last summer he signed a seven-year deal at about $800,000 a year, slightly less than what UCLA is expected to offer.
"If the time comes, we will fight like the dickens to have Ben Howland coach here for many years to come," Pitt interim Athletic Director Marc Boehm said.