Ben Howland inherited more than the roster when he became the Bruin basketball coach. He also was handed the 2003-04 schedule, and some of it is not to his liking.
He doesn't like waiting until Nov. 29 to open. But that is a minor quibble compared to the long UCLA tradition of filling Pacific 10 Conference bye dates with challenging nonconference games on the East Coast.
"It's bad for academic reasons," he said. "Traveling to New York in the middle of the quarter and missing class is not a productive thing academically."
UCLA will visit St. John's on Jan. 31 at Madison Square Garden and will play host to Notre Dame on Feb. 28. In the last six years the Bruins visited Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, North Carolina, Louisville and Duke.
Bottom line, Howland would rather hold a practice.
"It helps to get some practice during the year and there isn't much time because it is all spent preparing for the next opponent," he said. "Practicing is still very important in college basketball."
Howland acknowledged the financial incentive of playing a high-profile opponent on national television. He also knows that players enjoy those kinds of games. So he won't give them up entirely.
"It's good exposure," he said. "All kids want to be on national TV. We will still play one nonconference TV game in the middle of [the season]. But it's tough to play two."
What impresses the new coach: Point guard Cedric Bozeman played 24 minutes in the exhibition victory Tuesday night despite spraining an ankle a day earlier in practice.
"We weren't sure how bad it was and he came back and played," Howland said. "That's a toughness thing."
-- Steve Henson