Howland shouldn’t be fall guy for UCLA’s loss
SAN ANTONIO -- I hate missing layups, and this one, by Page 2 ripping standards, would be a real gimme.
I’ve never liked the way Ben Howland coaches, the way he controls his players almost every second of a game, and the ridiculous notion that defense wins championships when it seems like the team with the most points always wins.
The Bruins’ quick Final Four exit again would make it hard for rebuttal, but this is no time to pounce on Howland, or pick apart his master plan for success at UCLA.
Howland didn’t go stupid overnight, and for three consecutive years with three teams he has been here with a chance to win the national championship.
That not only makes him good, but exceptional in his line of work.
As I recall, no one else beat Florida the last two years in the big games, and although we’ll see about Memphis on Monday night, go ahead and ask him if this latest whupping shakes his belief in how to assemble a winning basketball team.
“No,” he said, as if bracing himself to take a charge, but if he thought Memphis’ transition game was hard to stop, wait until the second-guessing really gets going.
The questions already started in the post-slaughter news conference.
“Ben, what changes need to happen to have this team get here and win?” the Associated Press wanted to know.
“Ben, do you have to change your approach?” a writer from Los Angeles asked.
“Coach, it seems like the last three years the teams with really good athletes have had their way with your guys, so what do you do?”
In each case Howland listened as if someone was actually making a good point, his heart ripped out for a third consecutive time minutes earlier, but when it came time to answer, there was no need for him to look at video.
“Those kind of questions suggest they had better players,” Howland said later in a private moment. “Usually that’s the problem, but we have really good players too. We just didn’t perform well.
“I see no need for any sweeping changes.”
But is there any way UCLA could have won this game?
“Yes, if we had played close to a perfect game,” said Howland, the defense-minded coach defending his players to the very end. “We had to play really under control and not make mistakes.”
That’s the Howland brand of basketball, of course, every defensive stop orchestrated, every offensive series choreographed, every timeout used, while Memphis played as if it was in a hurry to get back to the River Walk.
Second-guess, if you like, but Memphis was just better than UCLA. It happens. That’s usually why only one team emerges the champion, and three others go home wondering what happened.
Memphis has won an NCAA-record 38 games this season, and although some observers contended the Tigers were vulnerable because of a poor performance from the free-throw line, Memphis went 20 for 23 against the Bruins.
Memphis, obviously coached well by John Calipari, who is 23-9 in NCAA tournament games, has been on a roll throughout the tournament, while the Bruins struggled at times.
They needed a lift from Josh Shipp, seemed to get it early with a pair of three-pointers, but then he disappeared again.
“I don’t think I got another shot at a three until late in the game,” Shipp said, apparently forgetting the two he missed in the first half. He also went 0 for 2 in the second half.
Every time he had the opportunity to make the big shot and bring the Bruins back, he failed, and that’s not coaching or an approach to a game. That’s just a flawed shooter, who has remained in a deep freeze for the last 18 games, making 21% of his three-point shots (17 of 82).
It’s amazing Howland got the Bruins through the Pacific 10 Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament with his only effective outside shooter being so ineffective.
Memphis had a double-team plan to negate Kevin Love, and it worked without Shipp loosening up the defense, this time even Love’s two attempts from long range clanging off the rim, everything going awry for the Bruins.
An athletic Russell Westbrook met the big-game challenge, which some critics might use as further fodder in suggesting the Bruins need to become more athletic like Westbrook.
But who is to say the Bruins won’t be more athletic in the future, Howland already showing an ability to win with three different rosters, and where’s Florida this year? It didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.
Let’s see how he retools, and anyone care to bet the Bruins won’t be in Detroit next year for the Final Four once again?
I don’t like the style of play and consider it boring, but I lose the argument with Howland when he starts talking about the joy he gets in winning. And the Bruins have done a whole bunch of that since he arrived with no indication it’s about to stop any time soon.
“You know, as disappointing as this loss is, it’s hard to be here three years in a row and not come away with a championship,” Howland said. “But I’m still proud of this group of young men. I thought this was our best team, our best chance. Memphis State was better today, and you have to credit them.”
And that should be that -- without taking away anything UCLA has accomplished this season, or the two before it.
P.S. A word of caution to the Lakers and Dodgers. I won’t miss on the next layup.
NOTHING SAYS America like a souvenir store parked in front of the Alamo selling Final Four bears for $22 and T-shirts for $25. This is why Davy Crockett gave it everything he had.
BY THE way, looking at the Alamo and where it stands, you just hope the guys were able to slip out one night and make it to Fuddruckers, which is located just a musket shot beyond the south wall.
TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Wayne Hatcher:
“Hey, what happened to your Bruins? After your digs and smart quacks you made against Western Kentucky and Kentucky people, I am delighted that Memphis got the win.”
Anything to bring a little joy to the folks who have to live there.
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.