Wild Times For Lavin And Howland
UCLA’s former coach and its current one can commiserate these days.
Steve Lavin and Ben Howland have had some wild times.
Lavin’s St. John’s team has been a lot like his old Bruin clubs. It upsets the good teams and loses to the inferior types. But give “Lav,” as they used to call him in Westwood, his due here.
In his first year on the job, he seems to have revitalized college hoops in New York, and that’s no small task. When his Redmen knocked off No. 4 ranked Pittsburgh, 60-59, their fifth win over a top ten team this season, Madison Square Garden was definitely rocking. It is good for the game and certainly good for Lavin, who had spent the past several seasons as a TV broadcaster.
Watching basketball, instead of coaching it, seems to have helped, almost as much as dumping the old Pat Riley look for a more conventional hairstyle. Lavin finally has brought in a steady, experienced hand on the bench in former Purdue coach Gene Keady, and it seems to have matured the young coach who used to go romping up and down courtside at Pauley Pavilion, waving his arms madly.
Lav is more in control now, and so is his team. It also helps that he has a great player in Dwight Hardy, whose twisting lay-up beat Pitt in the final seconds. Hardy, a candidate for Big East Player of the Year, should get him into the NCAA Tournament, and although St. John’s isn’t ready to advance too far, it will be a dangerous group to play when the serious stuff begins in March.
Howland experienced a couple of thrillers himself over the weekend, outlasting Stanford on Thursday, then losing when his kids’ gritty comeback fell short in an overtime loss at Cal Sunday night, 76-72.
Cal’s Jorge Guttieriez dispensed maybe the finest all around game of this, or any recent Pac-10 season, ending UCLA’s six-game winning streak. The kid was truly extraordinary.
The Bruins’ season has been something less than that. But it also has been a huge upgrade from last year’s 14-18 debacle. In many ways, this 19-8 run might be Howland’s finest coaching performance, because he doesn’t have any real stars on this team.
It is a nice collection of solid players who have meshed into a tight, unselfish unit. They don’t have a great shooter, and until huge freshman Joshua Smith matures, they won’t have a consistent inside game.
But they’re still getting by with Tyler Honeycutt, their best all around player, and Malcolm Lee, who has developed into their most effective scorer and defender. Not to mention a defensive tenacity that you know makes Howland proud.
Defense is his baby. Always was and always will be. For a while, it looked like he might not get any of the really skilled recruits locally anymore, because he was so consumed with stopping other teams, he didn’t allow his players to operate freely on the offensive end.
It appears that part of him has relented somewhat, and that’s encouraging. Because this guy can coach the game. You don’t go to three consecutive Final Fours without knowing how to coach. You don’t get as many players thriving in the NBA, either.
Can this Bruins bunch make it a fourth trip to the Final Four for Howland? Hardly. But they currently are sitting in second place in the conference now with a 10-4 record, and they get first place Arizona at Pauley on Saturday.
A big game with championship and tournament implications. That’s what UCLA has always been about. And Howland somehow has managed to make it possible again, even though most of us didn’t think he could do it so quickly after what transpired last year.
His Bruins played and defeated Lavin’s St. John’s kids a couple of weeks ago in Westwood on a day when the officiating definitely seemed to be leaning heavily toward the home team.
The way both their seasons and careers have gone, it wouldn’t be surprising if these two coaches somehow wound up meeting again in the tournament.
Amid all the other madness of March, you have to admit, it would be very appropriate.
Some quick hits from a busy sports weekend:
Yes, Kobe can still get up for that one big game. You don’t think he wanted that fourth All-Star MVP trophy too badly, do you? . . .
By the way, Kobe has no more right to having his footprints at Grauman’s Chinese than Dustin Hoffman has of having a statue in front of Staples Center . . .
A 20 year old wins at Daytona, huh? Funny, I see 20 year olds speeding wildly around my neighborhood all the time . . .
Let’s be honest: There is no current No. 1 in college basketball, and it’s no big deal. We’ll have one soon enough. In about six weeks, to be exact . . .
So the Angels’ Brandon Wood is talking to a new hitting coach. I’d say that’s a pretty good idea judging by what happened when he talked to his old one . . .
— STEVE BISHEFF